Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: TOSsed
“Antares or Bust”
by Alan Decker
According to the Federation Travel Bureau, Tellar Prime is the second most popular destination among the four founding worlds of the Federation. Andor is fourth on the list primarily due to its unpleasantly cold climate (Ice and lots of it) and the fact that there’s good chance that someone will try to kill you before you leave. The tipping guideline sheet upon arrival is not a list of suggestions; It is key to your survival. Unless of course you want the bellboy to also deliver a knife to your back when he brings your luggage to your room.
Vulcan ranks third on the list. It’s peaceful, but very hot. And while it scores well with the meditative crowd, others, after spending a few days listening to monotonous droning about the illogic of ordering dessert for breakfast (I like my chocolate chip pancakes, dammit!) and passing countless hours doing a whole lot of nothing, will find themselves wishing they’d gone to Andor instead. It may be dangerous, but running for your life really gets the blood pumping.
Earth ranks number one, which seems to happen a lot in lists like these, possibly because most of the list makers seem to come from Earth. As the Federation Travel Bureau headquarters is located in the primary government complex in Paris, there could be a wee bit of regional bias happening there. Who are we to say?
Back to our second place contender, though, Tellar Prime is a beautiful world of deep blue oceans, lush forests, verdant plains, majestic mountains, and food the likes of which you never experienced. This is counterbalanced by an obnoxious populace that will make you wonder if seeing the planet is at all worth it when you have to deal with the people who live there. You will be insulted about your looks, your clothes, your hair, your choice of luggage, your voice, your grammar, your table manners, the way you walk, the way you laugh, the way you breathe, and the way you came out of your mother’s womb from the moment you arrive on the planet until the moment you leave. But don’t take it personally. They do that to everyone. Especially each other. The best thing you can do is fight back.
Mike Harper had found the Tellarites a bit overwhelming when he first came to Tellar Prime four years earlier to take a job captaining a freighter for the interplanetary trading group Gravit and Yurtz. He spent the first week feeling like a failure because everybody was yelling at him. Once he realized that it was just their way, he was able to let it roll off of him, and over the years he’d gotten slightly better at dishing it right back at them. Still, when he could avoid the verbal combat, he did.
Mike’s ship, the SS Clydesdale, was currently moored at one of the commercial docking facilities in orbit around Tellar Prime waiting to take on cargo. The only problem was that Mike had yet to line up any cargo to take on. If something didn’t turn up soon, he was going to have to head to another world with his cargo modules empty in hopes of finding a job there. As much as he loved having his own vessel and cruising from planet to planet, there were costs involved, even in a society that supposedly ran without money. His crew wanted credits, repairs cost credits, docking facilities cost credits. In his mind, that meant credits were money, no matter what semantic gymnastics the Federation’s economists used to prove otherwise.
Fortunately, he had a lead for that afternoon, but until then he was taking the opportunity to enjoy lunch in the docking facility’s synthemat. Their food synthesizers worked a lot better than the one on the Clydesdale and could produce actual Earth dishes.
Mike was polishing off a ridiculously large cheeseburger when he spotted a familiar face threading his way through the tables en route to Mike.
“Harper!” Carter Davenport, captain of the SS Ottoman, said warmly as Mike stood up to shake his hand. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“Yep. Got in early yesterday. Sit down. Please.”
“I’ve got a minute or two,” Carter said, taking the seat across from Mike.
“So are you coming in or going out?”
“Out. Doing the home run,” Carter replied.
“Nice. I haven’t had a run to Earth in…a while.”
“What have you been doing? Word is you’re now Starfleet’s errand boy. You trying to get Ronnie her commission back?”
“It was a one-time thing. Two times if you count the woman they stuck on my ship. But this last thing was a straight up trade. I helped them out, and they helped me out.”
“Ship broke down again, huh?”
Mike sighed. “Yeah.”
“Happens to all of us,” Carter said.
“How the hell did you even hear about it, though? We just got in from finishing that job.”
“Gossip moves faster than warp.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Mike muttered.
“Where are you off to next?”
“Not sure yet. I’ve got a meeting with Gravit this afternoon to see if she’s got anything to push my way.”
“So…not Antares then,” Carter said.
“I don’t know where they might send me…if they even have something. What about Antares?”
“I got hired to make a delivery there a week from now.”
“A week? But you said you were heading to Earth.”
“I am. I probably shouldn’t have accepted, but I thought I might be able to…subcontract it out.”
“While you keep a nice percentage of the delivery price.”
“Call it a finder’s fee,” Carter said. “Are you interested?”
“What am I delivering?”
“A necklace. It’s a custom job for one of the jewelers there. Their customer is due in to pick it up in a week.”
Antares’ reputation as the world to visit for fine shopping had been growing over the last several years, and Mike had made a fair number of runs there. He couldn’t see anything about it that made the shopping on Antares any better than anywhere else. It was your basic Class M world. A couple of oceans, some continents, and so on, but it somehow had gotten this reputation, a reputation it was more than happy to cultivate.
“So I’m supposed to tell Gravit that I’ll only take a run if it’s to Antares,” Mike said.
“Or that general neighborhood.”
“And what’s my cut for delivering the necklace?”
“Five thousand credits.”
Mike let out a low whistle. “Not bad. Not enough to fund the trip by itself, though.”
“But it would be a nice cherry on top of the deal,” Carter said.
“That it would. Okay. I’ll take it. Gravit’s always sending stuff to Antares. I’m sure she can help me out here.”
“All right! I’ll have it dropped by this afternoon. Where are you docked?”
“Slip 24-B. And this better be COD!”
“It is,” Carter said, getting up from his chair. “Just bring back my finder’s fee.”
“Oh yeah. Sure thing,” Mike said with a joking smile.
“I’ll hunt you down, Harper.”
“In that crate? I’d like to see you try.”
“That’s low, man. And funny coming from the guy flying around in a mutant armadillo. I’ll see you later.”
“Later on,” Mike said, chuckling as Carter headed off. Mike suddenly stopped laughing. Wait. Armadillo?
“Antares? What? You think you run this place now, Harper? You don’t choose your jobs. I choose your jobs. Antares? HA! Like I’d send you there,” Gravit said, practically coming across her desk at Mike, the nostrils of her snout-like nose flaring. Gravit was actually the fourth generation of her family to own Gravit & Yurtz Interplanetary Shipping. The Yurtz side hadn’t stayed with the company past the second generation, but Gravit had kept the name of the company intact, since it was already well established in the industry.
The Tellarite tradition of referring to everyone by their family names took Mike a little while to get used to. First names were only used among family members, and Mike still had no idea what Gravit’s was. He probably never would. He certainly wasn’t family, and the only other Tellarite way to learn that information was to propose, at which point it was traditional for the betrothed to reveal their first names to each other.
As Gravit was a Tellarite and probably thirty years older than him, Mike didn’t think they’d be getting hitched anytime soon. She’d been his employer when he first came to Tellar Prime four years earlier, but a year ago he’d finally saved up enough to purchase his ship, which Gravit was planning to decommission anyway, and strike out on his own as an independent cargo transport operator. Still, he seemed to spend a lot of his time working for Gravit.
“What do you mean ‘like you’d send me there’? You’ve sent me there four times in the last six months,” Mike said.
“Yes, but I don’t have anything to send you there with currently,” Gravit said. “Here. Eat something.” She pushed a plate of meat pastries across the table toward him. That was another thing Mike had had to adjust to when he first came to Tellar Prime: the constant eating. Tellarites eat first thing in the morning and then again once they’re feeling a bit more awake and then again to hold them off until midday and then again to…well, you get the idea. Mike figured out very quickly that refusing an offer of food was a very efficient way to get a Tellarite to go from their usual abrasive and insulting mood to really angry. Tellarites assume that you have just eaten, that you’ll have a snack while you’re together, and that you’ll head out for a meal with them as soon as your business is concluded. Mike put on twenty pounds in his first two months on the planet, but then learned to pace himself.
Gravit thought things over a bit. “If you’d take a run out to Coridan…”
“No way. Too much Orion activity.”
“Not for long. Coridan’s been recommended for Federation membership. They’ll be a safe route soon enough.”
“But not yet. And I really need to go to Antares.”
“Why? Hot date waiting for you?” Gravit asked, waggling her eyebrows at Mike.
“Nothing like that.”
“Why not? You’re young and decent looking for an Earther, I guess.”
“The ship keeps me busy.”
“Uh huh. Sure.”
“It does!” Mike insisted.
“Maybe, but you can’t spend your whole life trapped inside that metal can. You’ve got to get out. Have some fun. You could learn a few things from that sister of yours. She knows how to live.”
“Ronnie knows how to get into trouble, and then I get her out of it.”
“You could try letting her get you out of trouble for a change,” Gravit said.
“Thanks, but I wouldn’t like my odds,” Mike said, getting up from his seat. “And thanks for the pastry.”
“I’d say let’s go get something to eat, but…”
“Another time,” Mike said, relieved that Gravit had gotten him out of finding a non-insulting way to beg off a meal invitation. “If something comes up, please let me know. I’ll be docked for another day or two.”
“We’ll see if I’m feeling charitable toward the hopeless,” Gravit replied with a smile.
Mike made a show of rolling his eyes, drawing a laugh from Gravit, then headed out of the office. He basically had two options at this point: turn down Carter’s offer, which he didn’t want to do, or get another member of the Clydesdale’s crew involved: specifically his engineer, Bork. But Bork was not going to be pleased.
Nope. He wasn’t pleased. The look on Bork’s face when he spotted Mike walking into the bar said it all. “What the frunk?” Bork said. “You miss me so much that you have follow me around like some damn puppy?”
“I could have called you back to the ship,” Mike said, taking a seat on the barstool next to Bork. On a small stage in the back corner of the bar, one of the patrons was droning and grunting his way through a popular song from a few years earlier. He was actually halfway decent as far as Mike could tell. Tellarite music was far from his field, though. As for Bork…
“You been on yet?” Mike asked.
“I’m sorry I missed it.” That was something of a lie. Bork’s musical stylings were a taste Mike had not yet acquired.
Mike put in an order for a beer, and the bartender brought him the drink and a bowl of some kind of fried nuggets. They drank and ate in silence for a few moments.
“Are you going to tell me why you’re here?” Bork asked. “And don’t tell me it was to hear me sing.”
“I need your help,” Mike said.
“There’s a shock. What’s broken now?”
“Nothing. The ship’s fine. It’s about a job.”
“The one we don’t have.”
“How many more drinks do I need to put down before this conversation starts making sense?”
“We need to go to Antares,” Mike said. “But we don’t have a cargo run to Antares.”
“Then why do we need to go there?”
“Special delivery. A profitable one, too, if we can do it on top of a regular job. Gravit didn’t have anything for us, and my usual sources are dry. So I was wondering…”
“Have you gone stupid?” Bork said.
“Ask her!” Mike shouted.
“Hey! People are trying to sing over here!” the Tellarite on stage called.
“Sorry!” Mike said, raising his hand in a gesture of apology. He turned his attention back to Bork. “It’s just a conversation, Bork. If she says no, no big deal. We turn down the special delivery, we don’t get that nice bonus in our accounts, and we find something else to get us to the next world. Gravit said she had a job to Coridan we could do, and I’m sure you could coax the engines into outrunning any Orion pirates we might encounter.”
“You’re just asking for trouble here…for both of us.”
“A little risk for a big reward is better than a lot of risk for our regular fee. I really don’t want to go to Coridan.”
“Then why don’t you go talk to her?”
“I don’t have your connection.”
Bork snorted. “You call that a connection?”
“It’s more than I’ve got. So will you do it?”
“Will it get you out of this bar?”
“I’ll even buy your next drink.”
“Fine. I’ll go. But you first. Get out.”
“I’m gone,” Mike said, handing his credit chit to the bartender. “Take his next round off of there, too.”
“You’re not gone yet,” Bork said.
“Going now!” Mike said, patting Bork on the shoulder then taking his chit back from the bartender and heading toward the exit. “Good luck!”
“Thanks,” Bork muttered before chugging the rest of his beer. “Two more,” he told the bartender. “And charge them both to his account.”
There were days when Dr. Janet Corbair wasn’t sure if Commodore Enwright had done her a favor or not when he “assigned” her to the Clydesdale for her probationary period after her release from the New Attitude Rehabilitation Colony on Drunera Goran II. The Commodore, who commanded Starbase 6 and had jurisdiction over New Attitude, was obligated to find Corbair gainful employment after her release.
Enwright could have very easily have dumped her in a custodial position on the starbase and let her spend her three year probation cleaning up after the station’s residents. Instead he convinced Mike Harper to take her on board the Clydesdale. On the upside, she got to travel a bit instead of spending day after day trapped inside the starbase. On the downside, she was now stuck inside a small Tellarite freighter. Sure she could leave…as long as one of the Clydesdale’s crew was with her. Spending her time shackled with a babysitter wasn’t Corbair’s idea of fun, though.
Of course, it wasn’t like she was under guard on the ship. She could really leave any time she wanted to. Corbair half-suspected that Mike actually wanted her to go. He was shanghaied into taking her on in the first place, so why would he care if she left? Part of her stayed aboard just to spite him. The other part stayed because she didn’t relish the idea of a life on the run. She wasn’t about to go to the Klingons or the Romulans, which meant that she’d spend her days hiding from Federation authorities and constantly looking over her shoulder.
No. She could make it three years. Two years and six months at this point. She just had to find new ways to keep herself occupied. Fortunately, a new toy had dropped into her lap thanks to their recent passenger, a man calling himself Dr. John Smith. Dr. Smith turned out to be the resident of another universe, a fact the Clydesdale’s crew only found out after he dragged them through a spatial anomaly called The Well. All of that had turned out okay, and Dr. Smith made it home. Even better, he left behind crates of items he’d salvaged from Starbase 6 in the Clydesdale’s guest quarters, and in the bottom of one of those crates, Dr. Corbair had found an older model Starfleet tricorder. She wasn’t sure when she’d need it, but portable scanning capabilities were bound to come in handy.
When she’d found it, the tricorder appeared to be mostly functional, but over the last several days of testing it out, she’d realized that several of the scans she made were completely inaccurate. For example, Corbair was fairly certain that her quarters were not 3000 degrees. She’d traced the fault to the tricorder’s data translation and normalization matrix board, and, while the rest of the crew was away on Tellar Prime, she was tucked away in the ship’s small medical bay on Deck Four, which also served as her lab (Well, Mike didn’t think it was her lab, but who cared about his opinion?), attempting to fix it.
It felt good to be back at work on a project. Corbair had the tricorder opened up, and the board in question had quickly given up the secrets of its malfunction. All that remained was to repair the fault, return the tricorder’s innards to their proper position, and close up the patient. Corbair made her last fix and looked it over to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. It looked good. All that remained was to power up the unit and try it out.
Lights illuminated, readouts dashed across the display screen, the high-pitched hum of a scan began and…
…and smoke billowed out from the interior of the tricorder as the data translation and normalization matrix board melted into a bit of hot slag.
Corbair couldn’t be certain, but she had the nagging impression that she’d missed something in her repair. She expressed this feeling by screaming obscenities…a lot…and quite loudly.
All in all, it was good that she had the ship to herself.
Bork wasn’t sure if she would see him, but after a couple of moments of waiting, her assistant emerged from the office and told him that he could go inside. She was standing in front of her desk, trying to look casual but not doing a very good job of it.
“You look like crap,” she said.
“I wasn’t about to get dressed up for you,” Bork shot back.
“It’s good to see you, Bork.”
“You too, He…Annar.” He’d almost slipped and used her first name. Those days were long gone, though.
“Have a seat. How about some knorkle?” Annar said, going back around the desk and producing a bowl of crispy snacks that strongly resembled fried pork skins.
“Thanks,” Bork said, scooping up a handful.
“You still running around on that piece of junk?”
“Yes. I’m still on the Clydesdale.”
“Clydesdale? I thought it was called…”
“The captain changed the name when he bought it. He’s human and named it after some kind of ridiculous animal from his homeworld.”
“Does he know you’re here?”
“Huh? I’d think he’d be trying to stay on Gravit’s good side. She’d not be happy if she knew one of her carriers was consorting with me.”
“Like that matters to her,” Annar said. She did have a point. Tellarite businesses operated in a system of alliances and animosities, much like the society as a whole. One of the side effects of everyone going by their last name is that if one member of a family upset you, it was fairly easy to hold a grudge against the entire clan. Feuds were common between families and businesses.
Annar ran Annar’s Exports, which, while it didn’t have its own ships like Gravit & Yurtz, was competition in the fine commodities transport arena. As that was a very small arena, Annar’s Exports and Gravit & Yurtz were not all that fond of each other. Gravit & Yurtz shipped just about anything and so hoped to crush Annar’s Exports with their sheer size. That was two generations ago, and it hadn’t happened yet.
“We’re not working for her at the moment,” Bork said.
“So you want to work for me?”
“On a limited basis. The captain wants to go to Antares, and he thought it’d be better to go there with a full hold.”
“Why does he want to go there?”
“Sightseeing I guess. I don’t know. But I thought maybe we could help you out at the same time.”
“Behind Gravit’s back.”
“If you want to look at it that way. Commercial law doesn’t prohibit independent transports from taking contracts from…”
“Save it, Bork. I’ve heard all the lectures from you that I ever need to hear,” Annar said. “And I actually do have a shipment to send to Antares. I was going to handle it another way, though.”
“Why do that when I’m making you this offer?”
“You’ve worked for Gravit. You could be working for her now for all I know and just trying to fill your empty cargo modules with my goods. You work for me exclusively this run. Got it?”
“Yeah. That’s fine.”
“And you’ll do me one other favor.”
“What kind of favor?”
“There’s a reason I was going to handle this another way. I promised my nephew I’d send him to Antares. I was going to send the whole thing on a passenger liner. They were going to seriously gouge me on the cargo transportation costs, but it got Duv out of my hair. The boy’s a bigger pain in the ass now than he was when he was a child.”
“We can take him,” Bork said. The humans could deal with Duv. Bork would just spend his time in the engine room.
“It’s only about three cargo modules of goods,” Annar said. “But I’ll pay for a full load, since you’re taking Duv. You’re actually saving me credits in the end, I think.”
“He’ll have to find his own way back.”
“He can stay there for all I care. Just make sure that he gets to Antares in one piece. Otherwise my brother will never let me forget it.”
“I think we’ve got a deal then,” Bork said.
“You going to follow through on this one?”
“That’s not fair. We both…”
“I know. I’m sorry. It really was good seeing you,” Annar said, coming back around the desk to Bork as he got up from his chair.
She looked into his eyes for several long seconds, a half-smile on her face.
“What?” Bork asked finally.
“I can’t figure out if I want to kiss you or slap you.”
“I think I can solve that for you.”
He suddenly took off running out of the office.
“Be here! You hear me? BE HERE!”
Dr. Corbair flung small bits of conduit, cabling, isolinear chips, display boards, and assorted electronic debris around Dr. Smith’s recently-vacated guest quarters, often creating far smaller bits of debris as said items smashed into the walls or the furniture.
After emptying the first crate without finding the circuit board she needed, Corbair kicked it over in frustration.
“DAMMIT! BE HERE!” she screamed, diving into the second crate, cursing Dr. Smith all the while. Why the hell did he gather all this crap and not get another data translation and normalization matrix board? Or maybe he did and just ended up using it in whatever the hell that gadget was that allowed him to determine the right path through The Well and home in on his ship. Either way, it wasn’t helping her a whole lot at this point.
“GAAHHH!” she screamed, kicking over the second crate and spilling the last of its contents out onto the floor.
No data translation and normalization matrix board, and with the current one looking like it came out of a Salvador Dali painting, the tricorder was useless. At one point in her life not all that long ago, Corbair would have considered it to be a silly thing to be so upset about. But in the confines of her life aboard the Clydesdale, the idea of having a working tricorder had taken on inflated importance. It had given her something to focus on. Something new to do with her time.
Now that glimmer of excitement was gone, and she was back to a life of drudgery on a tiny crappy ship with a bunch of people who didn’t really want her around.
“Are you planning to just keep roaming the ship?” Ronnie Harper, the Clydesdale’s pilot, asked, jogging up to her brother as he made his way down the Deck Four corridor running the length of the vessel toward the engine room.
“I’m just checking to see if Bork’s back yet,” Mike said.
“You don’t know that.” They passed the cargo supervisor’s office (better known as Smash’s lounge) and opened the door to the engine room, which was devoid of occupants at that moment.
“Told you,” Ronnie said.
“Would you relax?”
“We’ve got a very expensive piece of jewelry on board that has to be on Antares in a week. That means we have to leave Tellar in the next 48 hours, and I’d really like to be leaving with a full ship.”
“Maybe you should have waited until you had cargo scheduled before you took the necklace.”
“I don’t think Carter was going to wait for an answer.”
“Neither am I. Come on.” Ronnie grabbed Mike’s arm and started dragging him back toward the other end of the ship.
“Where are we going?”
“The nightclub over in the Starfleet station,” Ronnie replied. “I need you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”
“Nothing icky. We’ll go, we’ll fight, you make a show of breaking up with me, I’ll cry a bit, and some gallant young officer will swoop in to console me. They’re suckers for that damsel-in-distress act.”
“And what if one of those gallant officers decides to punch me out for upsetting you?”
“Oooh. Very romantic. That might earn him some bonus points.”
They reached the turbolift, which opened revealing Bork.
“Thank the Great Bird,” Mike said.
“Oh don’t be dramatic,” Ronnie said. “Talking to me isn’t that bad.”
“That’s not why I’m glad to see him,” Mike said. “Mostly.”
“It’s a wonder your mother didn’t leave you two on a moon somewhere,” Bork said. “Now can I please leave this turbolift, or are we all going to pile in?”
“Please,” Mike said, standing aside and gesturing for Bork to exit. “How was Annar?”
“You sent him to his ex-fiancée?” Ronnie exclaimed.
“Where did you think he went?” Mike said.
“I don’t know. He could have connections with someone.”
“He does! With Annar!”
“No but. You butt out!” Mike said.
“You could show a little concern for his emotions.”
“It’s not like I held a phaser to his head.”
“I’m standing right here,” Bork said. “And getting really bored with this. You’ve got three modules worth of cargo coming. Now leave me the hell alone.” He stalked back into the turbolift. “We’re also taking Annar’s nephew.”
“We’re what?” Mike demanded, but the turbolift doors had already closed.
“Oooh. More company. You’d better clean up the guest quarters,” Ronnie said.
“Me? Why should…”
“You wanted this trip, so you deal with it.” By this time, the turbolift had returned, and Ronnie stepped inside. “I’ll find somebody else to be my fake date tonight!” She crossed her arms with a “harumph!” and closed the turbolift doors.
Mike sighed and waited for the turbolift to return, so that he could go up to the guest quarters and start cleaning. When he was a child and dreamed of commanding his own ship, somehow he pictured it being a bit more glamorous.
Despite her proclamation to her brother, Ronnie quickly discovered that finding a fake boyfriend for her evening plans was a bit more difficult that she imagined. Bork was nearly twice her age, and the Tellarite look just didn’t do a thing for her. Smash was suitably hunky, but maybe too hunky. At two meters tall, the muscle-bound Rigellan was liable to scare away any potential Starfleet suitors. Even after the fake fight followed by her “boyfriend’s” departure that Ronnie had planned, the Starfleet men might be too terrified of his possible return to even come back.
That left Smash’s two deckhands, Pafel-Sris and Wodak, or the Clydesdale’s night-shift, namely Noov. No one but Mike ever really talked to Noov, and the whole fluorine-breathing thing that required the Zaranite to wear a mask outside of his quarters might not make him too eager to go to a Starfleet nightclub. So it was on to the deckhands.
Ronnie found Pafal-Sris and Wodak along with Smash in the Clydesdale’s mess on Deck Two, cobbling together a meal out of leftovers they’d found in the room’s stasis locker.
“Hey there, Ronster,” Smash said, nodding her way as he plopped a cut of meat onto the top of the pile of food on his plate and made his way out of the kitchen into the hall proper, where he sat down at the room’s long table. “Join us for a munch?”
“Well…I kind of need…”
“Move it, twit,” Dr. Corbair snapped, knocking Ronnie aside as she stalked into the mess hall. She locked eyes on Pafel-Sris, the doe-eyed Grazerite. “Fix me some of that!” she demanded, pointing at the plate in his hands.
“Janet!” Ronnie said scoldingly. “Be nice.”
Corbair glared at Ronnie for a second, then turned back to Pafal-Sris. “Please,” she said, through gritted teeth.
“That’s better. I’d love to eat with you, but I need to talk to Paf and Wodak.”
“Oh darn,” Corbair said flatly. Dr. Corbair’s demeanor since her arrival on the Clydesdale had generally been enough to make most of the crew wary. She wanted them to have a healthy fear of her. Ronnie, however, was thrilled to have another woman on the ship and had quickly decided that she and Janet were best friends, whether Corbair agreed or not.
Corbair plopped herself down at the table while Ronnie headed into the galley where Paf and Wodak were finishing up their meals. “Hey, fellas,” Ronnie said. The deckhands exchanged a confused glance.
“Er…hey,” Wodak, an Antaran said. Paf just nodded and began filling Dr. Corbair’s food order.
“So…is either one of you available tonight?”
“Ohhh,” Wodak said with a grin. “You looking for a party?”
“I have some ideas in mind,” Ronnie replied.
“You should forget them.”
“I already have a perfect night planned,” Wodak said. “First, we’re beaming down to Feboal City to check out their casino district, then we’re catching a shuttle up to the Hrarafign Mountains for a little night skiing, and then we’re hitting the bars in Onik. You are more than welcome to come along.”
“You bringing the Ronster?” Smash called from the table. “Excellent!”
“That sounds great,” Ronnie said. “But I can’t. Thanks, though.” She should have known that Wodak would have plans. He always had plans when they were in port. Lots of plans. Most of which involved a casino at some point. And usually whatever was on the agenda after that got canceled in favor of staying at the casino.
Wodak shrugged. “You know where we’ll be if you change your mind.”
“Yeah.” Wodak and Paf headed into the mess. Ronnie quickly put a plate of food together and headed to the table, where she sat down right across from Dr. Corbair and let out a long sigh.
Corbair glanced up from the meal Paf had prepared for her. “Please tell me that you aren’t expecting me to take that sigh as a sign that I should ask about whatever’s bugging you.”
“I wanted to go over to the Starfleet docks tonight,” Ronnie said mournfully.
“I didn’t ask.”
“I had this whole plan to lure in some lucky officer, but none of the guys are available.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Now I’m going to have to go alone, which just seems so…pathetic,” Ronnie said.
“Go with that feeling.”
“Maybe I should just head to the casino with Smash and the boys. That could be fun.”
Corbair rolled her eyes and continued eating, hoping that Ronnie would get the hint. Why oh why did Ronnie insist on narrating her every thought process on this subject? Unless her night out was going to produce a new data translation and normalization matrix board, Corbair didn’t give a damn whether she went to a casino, the Starfleet docks, or… Corbair’s head shot up.
“I’ll go with you,” she said.
“You will?” Ronnie asked excited.
“Sure. I’d love to go to the Starfleet club and…do…club things.”
“Yay! I’ll still have to dump the fake boyfriend idea, but you can be my wingwoman. And I’ll be yours. This is going to be SO great!”
“If I meet the right guy, it just might be,” Corbair said.
Visitors to Tellar Prime looking for nightlife have a lot to choose from between restaurants that are open pretty much around the clock, recreational venues, theaters, and a lot of bars. What they won’t find, however, are many nightclubs. The reason for this is that dancing never developed on Tellar Prime. Xenobiologists and xeno-anthropologists have debated the reasons for this for decades, and a wide variety of evolutionary and cultural arguments have been proposed as explanations. The truth is that actually the Tellarites did develop dancing thousands of years earlier, but, in a remarkable example of species self-awareness, realized that they looked absolutely ridiculous when they engaged in the activity.
Instead, they focused their interest on the singing and performing aspects of music. With the discovery of other life in the universe and their subsequent involvement in the Federation, the Tellarites have had contact with many species that do dance; however, it still hasn’t caught on with the Tellarites themselves. Because of this, the few nightclubs that exist on, or in the case of the nightclub located at the Starfleet docks, above Tellar Prime tend to be populated by various off-worlders, and most of these are humans, since dancing and consuming alcohol seem to be key aspects of Terran mating rituals.
Evasive Maneuvers, the aforementioned Starfleet nightclub, was packed with a mix of gold, blue, and red shirted officers enjoying their downtime while at the spacedock facility. Dressed as they were in civilian garb, Ronnie and Dr. Corbair immediately attracted attention as they entered the large darkened room. The only light came from the flashing array over the dance floor and the more constant illumination at the bar on the far side of the place.
Ronnie leaned over to Corbair, shouting to be heard above the pounding beat of the music. “Why did you bring that thing?” She pointed at the large purse Corbair was carrying. “It makes you look like you’re not here to have fun.”
“It will be fine,” Corbair said.
“Okay, but I don’t know what you’re going to do with it when we’re dancing. Let’s head over to the bar first.”
“Definitely,” Corbair shouted back. She was going to need a drink or five in order to tolerate the noise in this place. She also needed Ronnie loosened up…not that she was all that uptight to begin with. But let her get nice and flirty to draw in the Starfleet types. She was a good fifteen years older than Ronnie, and while she was sure she could still attract men without much trouble, she was looking more for the young and stupid ones that would go for her companion.
“Since we’re together, only the braver and more confident ones should approach us,” Ronnie said after she and Corbair had each taken position on a stool and put in their drink orders.
“And the cocky assholes.”
“Those are the ones we get rid of,” Ronnie said, looking around and surveying the room. “But now all we have to do is wait.”
The wait lasted for exactly eight seconds.
Two redshirts walked over and just before they reached Ronnie and Corbair, they split up, each pushing up to the bar beside one of the women. Ronnie’s potential suitor immediately launched into whatever he thought passed for pick-up banter.
“I haven’t seen you around here before. I’m Fred.”
“Ronnie? Is that short for something?”
“Yes.” Ronnie didn’t go any further than that.
“Oh…so…what brings you here?”
Meanwhile Corbair locked an icy glare on the blond male who had approached her. He couldn’t have been more than 25 and looked like he really did not want to be there.
“Er…hi,” he said.
“Let me make this easy for you,” Corbair replied. “You’re being a good wingman and distracting me while your buddy cozies up to my friend. Meanwhile, I’m supposed to be looking out for her. Honestly, I don’t give a damn. I’m not going to get in your friend’s way. You, however, should go find someone who actually wants to talk to you.”
“Thank you,” the young man said gratefully and quickly retreated. Corbair watched him head down the bar and start chatting up an equally young Andorian male seated near the end. Pretty soon, the pair headed off to the dance floor together.
“That was nice of you,” a voice said from beside her. Corbair turned to the stool next to her, where a blue-shirted dark-skinned man was nursing an even darker beer. He was a lieutenant judging by the rank braids on his sleeve and probably in his early to mid-thirties.
“What was?” Corbair asked.
“Letting that kid off the hook.”
“Ehh…he wasn’t my type.”
“I don’t think you were his either,” the man said then took another sip of his beer.
“True. I think my vagina would have been an issue.”
The sip of beer was suddenly spat across the bar as the man started laughing. “Blunt, aren’t you?”
“Saves time. Are you looking for a date tonight or what?”
“Well…the thought did cross my mind. I’ve been stuck at these docks for a week now while a section of my ship gets repaired. Unfortunately, it’s the section containing what used to be my quarters, so what’s left of my belongings and I are in guest accommodations here.”
“Sounds awful,” Corbair said, softening her demeanor. “No wonder you wanted to get out and find some company. I’m Janet, by the way.” She extended her hand daintily for her new companion to shake.
“Dan. Dan Byron. Nice to meet you.”
“So you’re science or medical?”
“Yep. It wasn’t the plan, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love with rocks.”
“You want to get out of here?”
Byron almost spat out his beer again. “Are you serious?”
“Why not? You’re good looking enough, and I like your outfit.”
“It’s my uniform,” Byron said confused.
“It’s the right color. Let’s go.” Corbair scooped up her purse and then took Byron’s hand to yank him off of his stool.
“You’re leaving?” Ronnie exclaimed in surprise.
“Sure am. Thanks for a fun night. Good luck.”
Corbair didn’t hear the rest of Ronnie’s protest as the din of the music drowned her out. She let Byron lead her back to his tiny temporary room at the docks, which, as he said, were cluttered with whatever he had been able to salvage from his damaged quarters on his ship. A quick look around told Corbair what she needed to know.
“All right. Get over there and get naked,” she said, pointing to the bed. “I’ll be out in a second.” She headed into the bathroom, put her purse on the vanity, and pulled out a small bottle of champagne with two glasses.
“I just want you to know that I don’t usually do things like this,” Byron called through the door.
“Me either,” Corbair replied distractedly as she emptied the contents of a vial into one of the glasses. “But I’m ready to have some fun. How about you?”
“Oh yeah. I’m ready.”
“Here I come,” Corbair said, exiting the bathroom with two glasses of champagne in hand. Byron was indeed naked and stretched out on the bed. Even though he was a scientist, he’d obviously taken the Starfleet physical training regime to heart, Corbair thought appreciatively.
“You’re still dressed,” Byron said.
“Not for long,” Corbair said, lowering her voice to a sultry growl as she handed Byron his drink. “But first…” She drained her glass in one gulp. Byron followed suit, then immediately collapsed into unconsciousness.
Corbair grabbed her purse, pulled out her toolkit, and rushed over to the tricorder she’d spotted sitting on a table. In a matter of minutes, she had the unit open and its data translation and normalization matrix board. It was a newer model, but it looked like it would work in the tricorder Dr. Smith had left on the Clydesdale.
She closed the tricorder back up, made sure it was exactly where she’d found it, and then packed up her supplies. With that area cleaned up, it was time to mess up another one. She returned to the bed, rolled Byron’s insensate form around so that she could grab the covers and rumple them up sufficiently. As it was, he’d awaken feeling like he’d had a hell of a good time even if he couldn’t remember the details. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to leave something behind to complete the illusion, and she wasn’t a big fan of the bra she was wearing anyway, she thought as she began unfastening her shirt.
The next morning, the small crew of the Clydesdale was busy preparing the ship for departure…well, some of them were at any rate. Smash, the cargo supervisor, and his two deckhands were unloading the Annar’s Exports cargo shuttle that had docked at Cargo Module Two’s external airlock, distributing the various crates throughout the Clydesdale’s six modules in order to even out the weight distribution. Bork tended to get very cranky about unstable warp fields if they didn’t, but with only three modules worth of cargo to load, it still felt like a bit of a waste of time. Not that Smash was complaining, or would ever complain. The huge Rigellan just kept humming to himself as he carted crate after crate in from the shuttle by hand while Pafal-Sris and Wodak used the anti-grav sleds.
The shuttle had also delivered Annar’s nephew, Duv, whom Mike was showing the guest accommodations on Deck Three. The Clydesdale had ten sets of quarters, eight of which were occupied by the ship’s regular crew. Of the two guest rooms, only one was actually able to be used. The other had been wrecked nine months earlier when Mike had mistakenly agreed to transport a musician and his equipment to a concert. It turned out that said musician was actually the member of a band and was not pleased to be traveling on a freighter alone when his colleagues were on a private luxury transport. He too would have been on said transport if he hadn’t overdone it more than a little bit during a night out on Tellar Prime. He decided to take his fury out on his quarters, destroying all the furniture, smashing the bathroom fixtures, and somehow putting gashes in the room’s metal walls. When it came down to a choice between paying his crew and keeping his ship running or fixing up a rarely used bedroom, Mike decided to just leave it alone. In the interim, the room had become a dumping ground for odds and ends that really belonged in the crew storage room on Deck Four but that just hadn’t made it that far.
Mike was as guilty of throwing things in there as any of the rest of the crew. Just the night before, he’d added to the pile when he tossed in the two crates of electronic bits and salvage that Dr. Smith had left behind. Actually that made it sound like he found two nicely packed crates full of junk that he then moved. That wasn’t the case. Dr. Smith had evidently decided that cleaning up after himself wasn’t required. The contents of the crates were instead thrown all around the guest quarters, rather forcefully in some cases judging by the scratches on the walls and furniture.
Duv’s disapproving expression as he and Mike exited the turbolift onto Deck Three and made their way along the corridor, which was lined with quarters on each side, had Mike wondering if the Tellarite wasn’t planning his own violent renovation of the other guest quarters. Mike reached the door, located at the aft end of the deck, and activated the control to open it. Duv peered inside to see the small table with two chairs, desk, bed, and door leading into the bathroom.
“This is your VIP suite?” the Tellarite asked. He was in his mid-twenties and dressed in what was considered formal business attire on Tellar Prime.
“The one and only,” Mike said. Of course, it was also the not-so-VIP suite and the whatever-extra-person-happened-to-be-on-board suite.
“I thought you humans were more into decorating,” Duv said. “And that bed looks far too solid. Is there even a mattress on that thing? Where’s the food synthesizer? That bathroom had better have a full tub. I do not relish spending four days taking sonic showers. There WILL be hot water.”
“No, we didn’t decorate. Yes, there’s a mattress. Meals are served in the mess. No, we will not bring it to you. The bathroom only has a sonic shower. Any other questions?”
“Does my aunt know how you are treating me? I am the next CEO of Annar’s Exports, and I will not be treated like some common space hobo wandering from planet to planet on whatever will give me a ride. I am a paying passenger!”
“Your aunt paid your way. That’s true,” Mike said.
“And I will be watching over her interests! If I am not treated with respect or our cargo is not given due care, my aunt will hear of it! And I don’t give a cruduple if she was involved with Bork an eternity ago. She WILL take action!”
“Mister Duv,” Mike began. He was instantly interrupted by the whistle of the comm panel. “Mike, are you in there?” Ronnie’s voice asked through the panel speaker. Mike punched the activation button. “Yeah, Ronnie. Did you need me to come up there?” he asked, hoping the answer was ‘yes.’
“Yes. We’ve got…”
“I’m on my way,” Mike said, cutting her off.
“But I didn’t…”
Mike closed the channel and turned his attention back to Duv. “Very sorry. Ship’s business. Why don’t you settle in? I’m sure Smash will bring your luggage to you in no time. See you at dinner.” He dashed from the guest quarters back to the turbolift.
“Wait!” Duv shouted. “When are we leaving?”
“Soon!” Mike called back. “We’ll let you know!” He ducked into the turbolift and took it up to the bridge, where Ronnie and Dr. Corbair, the “science officer” Starfleet had dumped on the Clydesdale six months earlier in exchange for repairs at Starbase 6, were waiting.
“Is there an actual problem or were you just rescuing me in the nick of time for once?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know if it’s a problem,” Ronnie replied. “But Gravit is on the comm for you.”
“Gravit?” Mike said with an almost squeak. “Now?”
This was bad. This was very very bad. Somehow she must have found out about the run for Annar’s Exports, and she was comming to yell at him. He’d never work for Gravit & Yurtz again.
“Are you okay?” Ronnie asked in concern. “You just got all pale.”
“He must think he’s in trouble,” Dr. Corbair said. “I’m suddenly interested in this conversation.”
“Please be quiet. Both of you,” Mike said, sitting down at the navigation console. He opened the comm channel. “Good afternoon, Gravit. This is Mike.” He braced himself for the haranguing to come.
“I’ve got better things to do than sit here on hold, Harper,” Gravit’s voice said over the bridge speakers. “Can you honestly say you have better things to do than talk to me?”
“Sorry about that, Gravit. I was…not…on the bridge.”
“And no one else on that crate seems to have a damn clue about anything,” Gravit said, drawing a scowl from Dr. Corbair and a “Hey!” from Ronnie, which was quickly shushed by Mike.
“As I said, I’m very sorry about that.”
“Uh huh. Are you still going to Antares?”
“Antares?” Mike said. “Er…yes. We were planning on it.”
“Do you want some cargo to fill your hold or not?”
“Yeah. Cargo. Stuff in crates that people pay credits for. I couldn’t stand that hurt puppy expression of yours in my office, so I expedited a shipment for you.”
“Really? Wow. That’s…great,” Mike said. He slapped the mute button. “We are dead.”
“Dead? Why?” Ronnie said. “This is good news!”
“How is this good?” Mike hissed.
“Um…Mike? Are you there?” Gravit asked.
Mike hit unmute. “Of course I am. What’s the cargo?” He hit mute again as Gravit started talking.
“Don’t we want to be shipping cargo?” Ronnie asked.
“Yes, but we already have half a ship full, if you didn’t notice. I can’t tell Gravit that we’re working for Annar, I can’t fit her stuff on board, too, and if I refuse the run, she’s going to kill me, particularly if she is doing us a favor here.”
“…only four modules, but it’s better than nothing, right?” Gravit finished.
Mike slapped the unmute button again. “Four modules. Really?”
“Like I said, it’s not a full load.”
“That’s great, Gravit! Thanks!”
“Just get it there in one piece,” Gravit said. “The shuttle will be up there at 0700 tomorrow.”
“We’ll be waiting. Clydesdale out,” Mike said cheerily, then closed the channel. “That wasn’t so bad. It was only…” Mike winced as the realization hit him. “…four modules.”
“Can I point out some basic math?” Dr. Corbair said.
“I know,” Mike groaned.
“You have six cargo modules and are taking on seven modules worth of material.”
“And you have Annar’s nephew aboard, who seems like the type who’d be more than happy to tell his dear old auntie all about you two-timing her with Gravit.”
“So your plan is?”
Mike started pacing the small bridge. “We will…put the extra cargo in the crew storage room on Deck Four!”
“How?” Ronnie said. “It’s almost full.”
“The rec room?”
“Hmmm…that’d be close. But what if Duv wants to exercise?”
“Then he can do it in his quarters,” Mike snapped.
“I don’t think…”
“No. You’re right. We’ll have to figure something else out,” Mike said. “But first…” He activated the ship’s all-call. “Smash, we’re detecting…an issue with the starboard cargo modules. Sorry to do this to you, but could you redistribute everything into the port modules.”
“Sure thing, bossman,” Smash’s voice said over the comm.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Bork’s voice demanded. “There’s nothing wrong with…”
“Yes, there is.”
“No, there isn’t, you moron. Who’s telling you that? Is it that Corbair quack? Don’t listen to…”
“Bork, there IS a problem. If you would like to discuss it, please come to the bridge!” Mike said, resisting the urge to start shouting.
“Hello?” Duv’s voice said, breaking into the conversation. “Is this on? Can you hear me?”
“Yes, we can hear you,” Mike said with a sigh.
“What’s happening? Is this ship even safe for me to be on?”
“Everything is fine,” Mike said. “Just a minor technical glitch that has absolutely nothing to do with anything critical. Stay in your quarters, and we’ll let you know when dinner is ready.”
“I thought you said we’d be leaving port soon.”
“We will. The ‘soon’ estimate has been revised to tomorrow around lunchtime, though. Bye, now.” Mike quickly closed the comm channel as Duv started to protest.
“There. All set,” Mike said.
Corbair snorted. “Except for the extra module’s worth of cargo. Not to mention the small detail that Duv might notice that we’re bringing a lot more crates aboard in the morning.”
“We need a distraction,” Ronnie said thoughtfully.
“Good idea,” Mike said, getting up from his chair. “Thanks for volunteering.”
“What?” I didn’t…”
“He’s all yours, sis,” he added as he walked back into the turbolift.
“Way to stand up for yourself there,” Corbair said.
“I didn’t hear you helping.”
“Why would I?”
“And thanks for abandoning me last night,” Ronnie said angrily. “I had guys all over me.”
“Was that a problem?”
Ronnie grinned. “No. Not really. But I didn’t do as well as you did. You must have really liked that guy.”
“Oh yeah. He was great.”
“Great as in nice or great in…?”
“He was great. I got what I needed.”
“What you needed, huh?” Ronnie said with a smirk.
“I’m not having this conversation with you.”
Fortunately for Mike, Duv left the Clydesdale in a huff once he found out that they wouldn’t be leaving until the morning. That gave him and the crew time to frantically start moving things around to find room for the entire extra module’s worth of cargo that Gravit’s shuttle would be delivering tomorrow along with the three modules’ worth that they actually had space for. Unfortunately for Dr. Corbair, the task kept her away from the med bay, where her tricorder awaited its new board. Even worse, Ronnie had really thrown herself into the reorganization task and was laboring under the delusion that Corbair was eager to help.
“No no, Janet! Smash’s things go in the crates with the red stickers on them. He’s Rigellan. Rigellan starts with R. Red starts with…”
“Don’t say it,” Dr. Corbair snapped, turning on Ronnie as the two of them worked in the Deck Four crew storage room.
“You’ll get the hang of it. Paf’s crates are green for Grazerite. Mine are purple because that’s my favorite color. Mike’s are pink because it annoys him. Bork’s are…”
“Tell you what, I’ll just focus on mine right now, and then I’ll move on to someone else’s.”
“Okay. Doesn’t sound very efficient, though.”
“I’ll risk it.”
And so the job and the night wore on for hour after hour.
“They’re on approach.”
“Duv’s not here.”
“I can’t distract him if he’s not here!”
“I KNOW!” Mike shouted at Ronnie as the pair sat on the Clydesdale’s bridge watching the Gravit & Yurtz cargo shuttle grow larger on the viewscreen.
“You don’t have to yell.”
“Speaking of people not having to do things, is there any reason for me to be up here right now?” Dr. Corbair asked from her seat at the sensor console.
“Are we boring you?” Mike snapped.
“No. The bickering is quality entertainment, but I want to make sure Smash and friends didn’t destroy the medbay when they shoved those stacks of crates in there.”
“We had to put them somewhere,” Mike said.
“A lot of somewheres,” Ronnie said. “I can barely walk in my quarters now.”
“It’s only until we get to Antares. And between the shuttle bay and the storage room, we should have enough space to hold Gravit’s cargo and keep it out of Duv’s sight…assuming he’s coming back.”
“Oh, I’m sure he’ll show up at the worst possible time,” Corbair said.
“That would pretty much be now,” Mike said. “Ronnie, you’d better go wait by the gangplank, so you can catch Duv as soon as he gets on board. You can’t let him anywhere near deck four. I’m going to go meet the shuttle.”
“Woah! You two are leaving?” Dr. Corbair said as Mike and Ronnie headed for the turbolift.
“Yes, we are. Keep an eye on the bridge,” Mike said.
“…isn’t going anywhere,” Mike said.
“And just what do you expect me to do up here? We’re not exactly going anywhere at the moment.”
“Answer the comm. Monitor things. Be useful.”
“I was going to be useful in the medbay.”
“You can be useful there later. Be useful here. Can we stop saying ‘useful’ now?”
“Please. And go away.”
“Gone,” Mike said, stepping into the turbolift with Ronnie.
Dr. Corbair got up and strolled around the bridge for a moment. She could clear all moorings and send the Clydesdale sailing away from the station. That could be fun…for a few minutes. But then she’d be stuck on a ship with a very angry crew. These cargo runs did promise a decent profit after all, profit that she would be benefitting from. And there was also the issue of her parole. A stunt like that could very easily land her back in a rehabilitation colony. Of course, so could stealing components from a Starfleet Officer’s tricorder, but it would probably be ages before Lieutenant Byron even realized it, and by then the idea that she could have taken it probably wouldn’t even cross his mind.
No. She would monitor things on the bridge for now. The tricorder repair could wait a little while longer.
Even though the cargo modules were a good two decks down and well aft of the gangplank entry on Deck Two, Ronnie could still hear the occasional clang of a heavy crate landing on the metal floor as Smash, Wodak, and Pafal-Sris worked to bring the Gravit & Yurtz load aboard as quickly as possible. Mike was even helping out, which might have been the reason there seemed to be more clangs than usual. He never could get the hang of the anti-grav sleds. Ronnie would have much rather traded places with him. Why couldn’t he stand around waiting for Duv?
She knew the answer to that, though. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mike had used her to distract a male client, official, or the like. And, in Mike’s defense, he’d used himself the same way to get past some obstacles of the female variety. As Mike said, they were a small ship and crew, so they had to make use of every tool at their disposal. And if that meant that Ronnie had to bat her eyes at a Tellarite to get the job done, so be it.
The chirp of the comm panel by the gangplank hatch gave Ronnie the feeling that she’d be doing a bit of eye-batting fairly soon. She punched the button to activate the panel. “This is the Clydesdale. Ronnie Harper speaking. May I help you?”
“It’s Duv. Are we ready to leave yet?”
“Very soon,” Ronnie replied.
“Good. Let me in.”
“Of course. We’re glad you’re back.” She opened the hatch, revealing Duv, who was carrying a large shoulder case. “More luggage?” Ronnie asked.
“I forgot some stuff,” Duv said. “When are we leaving?”
“Like I said, very soon.”
“What was that?” Duv demanded.
“Just some repair work downstairs. But not engine repair. The engines are just fine. It’s other repairs.”
“My aunt’s cargo better be okay.”
“It’s fine. No issues with it at all.”
“I’d better check,” Duv said.
“Not now! It’s dangerous down there now,” Ronnie said. “Why don’t we…go…work out?”
“Why in the name of gurmle would I want to do that?”
“Because it’s fun?” Ronnie offered.
Duv’s eyes narrowed. “Are you sure…”
“Do you want to watch me work out?” Ronnie asked quickly.
Duv looked her up and down for a moment. “Do you sweat?” he asked with more than a hint of lasciviousness in his voice.
“Oh yeah. I sweat like a…er…I sweat a lot.”
“All right. I’m in.”
“Mike better appreciate this,” Ronnie thought as she headed toward the rec room with Duv following close behind.
Mike slumped against the wall of the turbolift as it ascended to the bridge. In just over an hour, he, Smash, Paf, and Wodak had managed to bring four cargo modules worth of goods aboard, but it had been a hell of a job. At this point, he was looking forward to just sitting in his chair at navigation and staring blankly ahead as the stars streaked by. Ronnie was the pilot after all. Once he laid in the course, she could take over.
The turbolift stopped at Deck Two, and the doors slid open revealing a bedraggled and red-faced Ronnie. Her hair was matted with sweat, and her clothes looked like she’d gotten caught in a rainstorm.
“What happened to you?” Mike asked.
“Worked…out,” Ronnie gasped, staggering into the turbolift.
“You were supposed to be with Duv,” Mike said.
“Oh. Sorry. So he’s a fitness buff?”
“When…I’m the one…getting fit.”
“What does that…Oh. Ick.”
They stepped out onto the bridge, prompting Dr. Corbair to leap up from her seat. “Great. You’re here. Gravit and Annar both commed with our drop off instructions. They’re both in the same docking facility at Antares, so it should be easy. We don’t have much time in between, though. I put all of the information into the system. So if that’s everything, I’m going to go. You don’t need me up here for the departure procedures. See you both later.” And with that, she was gone in the turbolift.
Mike and Ronnie looked at each other for a moment, then trudged over to their console and collapsed into their seats.
“My arms hurt,” Mike said.
“My everything hurts,” Ronnie said.
“Does everything have to be a competition with you?”
“I’m requesting departure clearance. Let’s get out of here.”
“Unnnh,” Ronnie groaned as she hefted her arms up onto her console.
“You big baby,” Mike said just before letting out an involuntary “Unnnnnh” of his own as he tried to program their course into the ship’s navigation system.
“Who’s the baby?” Ronnie said.
“Oh, shut up.”
As Mike and Ronnie gingerly steered the Clydesdale out of the docking facility above Tellar Prime, Dr. Corbair went straight to the medbay to get to work on her tricorder project. If she was honest with herself, she had been a little worried by the ship’s delayed departure. As unlikely as she knew it was, she half-expected that Starfleet security would swoop in to reclaim the data translation and normalization matrix board she’d swiped from Lieutenant Byron.
But they hadn’t and now she was moments away from having her own working tricorder. Sure, it didn’t sound like much, but it would be a huge step up from the bare-bones sensors on the Clydesdale and would give her some portable scanning abilities, which could come in handy in the future.
The older tricorder took a slightly different data translation and normalization matrix board, but Corbair was able to get the newer model installed and secured into the unit. Now to activate the power and…
The tricorder hummed to life, but instead of scanning the room, a message appeared on the unit’s small screen.
“NEW HARDWARE DETECTED. CONTACTING STARFLEET PROPERTY CONTROL FOR USER LICENSE AUTHORIZATION.”
“Auggh!” Corbair cried, quickly shutting the power off and then yanking the board out of the tricorder. Damn Starfleet and their damn restrictions. At least she’d gotten the tricorder turned off in a hurry. There’s no way that it could have gotten a message out. Right?
With the Clydesdale underway and cruising along at warp four on course to Antares, Mike was finally starting to relax a bit. The extra cargo module worth of material was out of sight, so even if Duv went to Deck Four, he wouldn’t see anything amiss. They had five days until they had to meet their contacts to offload the cargo and to deliver the necklace to the jeweler, which was plenty of time. Yes, the events leading up to their departure had been far more chaotic than Mike normally liked, but once they made it to Antares and collected their fees, it would all be worth it.
Pafal-Sris was fixing dinner in the mess tonight, which meant that they’d be eating well. The Grazerite wasn’t much for conversation, but he certainly had a way with food. Mike would be enjoying a nice meal while Ronnie covered the evening shift on the bridge. Technically it was supposed to be Mike’s shift, but Ronnie had no interest in spending dinner with Duv, feeling that she’d been ogled enough for one day.
Duv was indeed in the mess when Mike arrived, but he barely acknowledged the captain’s entrance. Instead, his attention was focused on the man sitting across from him: Bork. For his part, Bork seemed more interested in his meal.
Mike headed over to the pass-through counter to the galley where Smash and Wodak were standing with Pafal-Sris.
“Hey, guys,” Mike said. “How are your arms after all of that?”
“Er…fine?” Smash said confused.
“Never mind.” Okay. Evidently Mike was the only one exhausted from moving crates all morning.
“You going over there?” Smash asked.
“To the table?”
“I was planning on it. That is where we usually eat.”
“I don’t know, bossman. I’m not liking the vibe coming from that direction.”
“There’s a vibe?”
“That guy has been blasting Bork with the evil glare since he got in here,” Wodak said. “And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Tellarites, it’s that you do not get in the middle of one of their family squabbles…or between them and food.” Paf grunted in agreement.
“There’s some history,” Mike said, “but nothing too serious. I’ll see if I can’t lighten the mood a bit.”
“Go forth and diplomatize,” Smash said as Paf handed a tray to Mike across the counter.
“Yeah…right,” Mike said. He plastered a smile on his face and strolled over to the table where he took a seat next to Bork.
“Evening, gentlemen,” Mike said jovially. “Does this taste as amazing as it smells?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Duv replied icily. “I seem to be having trouble with my appetite.”
“Sorry to hear that. Do you need Doctor Corbair?”
“It’s not an illness. It’s the company.”
“You don’t have to eat here,” Bork said between shoveling bites into his mouth. “Won’t bother me.”
“Evidently nothing bothers you. Certainly not your duty to your fiancée.”
“Obviously you know all about it.”
“You had an obligation!”
“You were what? Five when that happened? You were a child. You have no idea…”
“I have no idea? Do you have any idea how much she cried after you left? I may have been a child, but I knew she was hurting.”
Bork didn’t respond.
“Not even an apology to offer?” Duv asked
“I don’t owe you one.”
“I can’t believe Aunt Annar agreed to this deal. Why she’d have anything to do with this ship is beyond me!”
“You can get off if you want,” Bork said. “I bet the captain would even drop us out of warp to do it.”
As though on cue, the ship shuddered slightly and the engine thrum shifted as the Clydesdale did indeed drop out of warp and then slowed to a stop.
Bork looked at Mike surprised. “You want to tell me how the hell you did that?”
“I didn’t,” Mike said, jumping up from his seat and rushing over the comm panel by the door. Before he even arrived, Ronnie’s voice came over the ship’s all-call.
“Mike! Get up here!”
“What’s going on?” Duv demanded.
“I don’t know yet!” Mike snapped. “Just stay here. And don’t kill each other!” He punched the comm button on the panel. “Hang on, Ronnie. I’m coming.”
He raced out of the mess to the turbolift, which slid open revealing Dr. Corbair. “What’s going on?” she demanded.
“I don’t know! Why do people keep asking me that?” Mike said stepping into the lift.
“You’re the captain.”
“That doesn’t make me psychic.”
Moments later, the lift doors opened at the bridge, where the problem was readily visible on the viewscreen: one of Starfleet’s single-nacelled Saladin class destroyers was directly in front of them, hanging in space, also at all-stop.
“They’re demanding to come aboard,” Ronnie said.
“Why? What did we do?” Mike asked.
“Besides illegally overloading the ship?”
“Not by much.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Dr. Corbair said.
“They’re locking phasers,” Ronnie said.
“Phasers?” Mike exclaimed. “WHAT IS GOING ON?”
“You’re supposed to tell us,” Dr. Corbair said.
“That’s not helping!”
TO BE CONTINUED…