You've got some Star Trek for us to move? Well, sure. Just sign here acknowledging that it is the property of CBS, Paramount, and Viacom. But you can take that Star Traks and Star Traks: TOSsed somewhere else. It belongs to Alan Decker, and we want no part of it.

Author: Alan Decker
Copyright: 2022

STAR TRAKS: TOSsed

“Busted”

by Alan Decker



Mike Harper wasn’t a big fan of weapons. Especially when they were pointed at him. The fact that a Starfleet ship had just locked phasers onto his relatively-defenseless freighter had moved him from “not a fan” to “scared catatonic.”

“Mike, we need to do something here,” Ronnie said from the helm.

“Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

“Is he turning into a sheep?” Dr. Corbair asked, walking over to Mike who was gaping at the single-nacelled Saladin-class destroyer on the viewscreen. It had gotten close enough for its name and registry to be visible. USS Ventus. Not that Mike really cared at that moment.

“Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

“I’m going to slap him.”

“Do you think it will help?” Ronnie asked.

“Couldn’t hurt.”

WHAP!

“OW!” Mike cried, clutching his cheek.

“Couldn’t hurt me anyway,” Dr. Corbair said, moving back to her console.

“The usual protocol here would be to comm them back,” Ronnie said. “Starfleet regulations state that they have to talk to you.” Considering that Ronnie had been through the Academy and served in Starfleet for a few years before her dismissal from the service, Mike was inclined to believe her.

“Comm them!” he shouted.

“They’re responding.”

“This is the SS Clydesdale! Don’t shoot! DO NOT SHOOT!”

“We will come on board,” a gruff male voice replied in clipped tones.

“Can I ask why?”

“We will come on board.”

“We’re just a freighter. We have no weapons,” Mike said.

“We will…”

“OKAY! Fine! Board us! We’ll be waiting. Clydesdale out!”

Ronnie cut the channel and turned her chair toward him. “I don’t get it. What are they after? I know we’re overloaded, but that’s not usually something Starfleet chases a ship down for. Maybe they’re bored.”

“I have no idea,” Mike said, reaching over and opening the ship’s all-call. “Attention, everyone. Starfleet is about to come aboard to look around. If you have anything illegal going on, you’d better tell me now.” As he said this last part, he locked his gaze on Dr. Corbair.

“I haven’t done anything,” she replied firmly. Except steal a data translation and normalization matrix board from a Starfleet Officer’s tricorder to use in the one that she’d found in the salvage that Dr. Smith had left on board a few weeks earlier, but there was no way that the Ventus was here because of that…even though, when she’d connected the board and powered up her tricorder, it had sent out a licensing request to Starfleet. Still, she’d shut it off almost immediately, and she couldn’t imagine that they would divert an entire starship because of that. And even if they did, she wasn’t going to admit it. That would mean a direct trip back to a rehabilitation colony.

“Um…bossman,” Smash’s voice said over the comm. “I’m no expert on this, but aren’t we going to get in trouble for carrying too much cargo?”

“Probably,” Mike said. “But that’s on me. I made the call. I just want to make sure we’re not about to get nailed for something I don’t know about.”

“Oh…right. Nope. Nothing from me, and the boys are shaking their heads.”

“Thanks, Smash.”

The voice of their current passenger, Duv, broke in. “Captain Harper, I might possibly have some things with me that maybe I shouldn’t.” Duv’s presence on board was due to his aunt, Annar, the owner of Annar’s Exports and one of the Clydesdale’s crew’s employers on this journey to Antares, a journey that had been interrupted by the arrival of the USS Ventus. Duv was already not thrilled with the accommodations or the company, since Mike’s engineer, Bork, had been engaged to Annar years ago, an engagement that had been called off without a wedding. He’d be even less thrilled if he knew that the Clydesdale was also carrying cargo for one of Annar’s Exports’ chief business rivals, Gravit & Yurtz.

However, if he was responsible for bringing Starfleet down on the Clydesdale, being less than thrilled with his mode of transport was going to be well down the list of Duv’s concerns, below such things as “Being Killed By Mike Harper.”

“What kind of things?” Mike demanded. There were likely to be Starfleet redshirts beaming aboard any second. Mike needed to know what he was dealing with.

“Nothing dangerous,” Duv said. “It’s just…some…older items…of possible Tellarite cultural significance.”

“You’re smuggling antiquities?!?” Mike shouted.

“That is one way of phrasing it.”

“I am not taking the blame for that!”

“Don’t worry,” Bork’s voice said, breaking into the conversation. “I’m sure Annar will understand when we tell why her nephew is spending the next decade or so in a rehabilitation colony.”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Duv shot back.

“Yep. Sure would.”

The hum and golden sparkle of six members of the Ventus’ crew transporting onto the Clydesdale’s bridge interrupted the Tellarites’ argument. Mike quickly moved to shut off the all-call as the six figures coalesced into Starfleet Officers sporting phaser pistols.

“Welcome to the Clydesdale,” Mike said. “I’m glad you’re here, so that we can clear all of this up and get both of our ships on our respective ways.”

“You will come with us,” a blue-shirted human woman with the arm braids of a lieutenant said, leveling her phaser at Mike’s face.

“Right. I’ll show you around.”

“No. You will come with us. How many are aboard?”

“Nine total.”

“Bring them here. You will come with us.”

“All right. I will warn you that one of my crew breathes fluorine, and he’s probably asleep right now. He’ll need time to wake up and get his breathing gear on.”

“No. He will stay where he is. The rest will come with us.”

“Hang on a second,” Ronnie said. “You’re talking about taking us back to your ship. Why? I was in Starfleet. I know the regulations here…mostly. You can’t do this unless you arrest us.”

“You are under arrest.”

“Oh, that’s much better,” Dr. Corbair said.

“Ronnie!” Mike exclaimed.

“What for?” Ronnie said.

“If you do not come willingly, we will take you,” the female lieutenant said.

“We’re coming,” Mike said, raising his hands emphatically. “Nobody needs to get hurt. I’ll get the others up here.” He activated the all-call again. “Everyone except Noov to the bridge. Noov, if you’re hearing this, you’re going to be on your own for a little while. Just hang tight until we get this sorted out.” Mike closed the channel, hopeful that the Zaranite night-shift pilot was awake enough to hear his message.

In the space of a couple of minutes (during which the Starfleet team did nothing except silently aim their weapons at Mike, Ronnie, and Dr. Corbair), the other five non-fluorine breathers on the Clydesdale (Bork, Duv, Smash and Smash’s two deckhands, Wodak and Pafal-Sris) joined their colleagues on the bridge, where they too got the enormous pleasure of having phasers pointed at them; although, Bork and Duv were almost too busy glaring at each other to notice.

Smash slid up beside Mike, but the effort that the massive Rigellan had to make to lean down to whisper in Mike’s ear rendered his attempts to be inconspicuous pointless. “Um…bossman, not to judge anything here, but this is looking a lot more serious than your basic ship check or contraband search.”

“I know,” Mike said. “I’m not sure what…”

He was interrupted by their lead captor practically shouting into her communicator, “We are ready to return!”

“Acknowledged!” shouted a voice from the other end, and the Starfleet officers crisply marched up beside six members of the Clydesdale’s crew, leaving Mike and Smash alone.

“We will return for you. DO NOT MOVE!” the lieutenant ordered.

“I won’t,” Mike said, raising his hands. “There’s no trouble here. I just want to know what…”

“Energize!”

The first three pairs of Clydesdale crew and their accompanying Starfleet Officers vanished followed moments later by the next group.

“So…are we doing something?” Smash asked once he and Mike were alone.

“They can outgun us, outrun us, and they just took almost everybody. If you’ve got some ideas that don’t end with us being instantly killed, I’d love to hear them.”

“Oh…yeah.” He was silent for a moment. “Sorry. I can’t think of anything.”

“Don’t feel bad. Neither can I,” Mike said as the Starfleet lieutenant and two red-shirts began rematerializing on the bridge.

“You will come with us,” she announced, keeping her phaser aimed squarely at Mike’s head.

“Okay,” Mike said as she stepped up to his side, keeping her weapon trained on him at all times while her two companions flanked Smash. “We are ready to return,” she announced into her communicator. “Energize!”

Considering that Mike’s stomach was already practically in seizures due to nerves, he barely felt the tingle of the transporter locking on and taking him apart piece by piece. The general numbness in his brain wasn’t helping matters either. What the hell was going on? He’d had dealings with Starfleet before. They were usually serious but professional and did their best to get him on his way (or get finished with whatever they had to do with Mike, so they could return to other things). At worst, they were unhelpful, like Commodore Enwright on Starbase 6. But never had Mike had any run-ins like this. As he rematerialized in the USS Ventus’ transporter room, he wondered if he was ever going to see the Clydesdale again. Sure, it wasn’t the prettiest ship ever, but compared to the drab gray walls of the Ventus and stern faces of its crew, the Clydesdale was a warm snuggly blanket.

The transporter room was empty beyond the transporter operator, leading Mike to immediately ask about his crew.

“We are joining them,” the lieutenant said, gesturing with her weapon for Mike to exit out to the corridor. He did as she ordered and was led at phaser point into a turbolift with Smash and his two new friends close behind. After a short ride, they stepped out into another corridor and soon arrived at a set of double doors that Mike assumed housed the ship’s brig.

“Are we going to get to talk to anyone about this? Like your captain?” Mike asked.

“That is unnecessary.”

“Unnecessary? It’s Federation law. You can’t just throw us in a cell and leave us to…”

The lieutenant opened the doors, revealing not the brig that Mike had expected, but the Ventus’ rec room, which currently seemed to be occupied by every member of the Starfleet vessel’s crew. Said crew was currently marching back and forth in formation with a loud repeated chorus of “HEP TWO THREE FOUR!” Watching it all were the members of Mike’s crew that had been previously brought aboard. At the pointed urging of the lieutenant, Mike joined them.

“Hey, guys,” he said. “What…are we doing?”

“I have no idea,” Dr. Corbair replied. “They brought us in here and then went off to march.”

“Maybe they just wanted an audience,” Smash said.

“They’re really good,” Ronnie said. “Better than my Academy squad was. We couldn’t…” Ronnie trailed off, then, before Mike realized what his sister was doing, she joined the nearest group of officers marching by, falling into perfect step beside them.

“Ronnie!” Mike shouted. “You’re going to make this worse!”

But she wasn’t listening. And apparently no one minded that she was suddenly marching along with them.

“Why are you not marching?” the lieutenant asked from directly behind Mike, causing him to let out a quick startled cry and spin around.

Smash was more nonplused about the lieutenant’s stealthy arrival, “Um…were we supposed to?” he asked.

“You do not want to march?” the Starfleet woman asked, confused.

“Not particularly,” Mike said, getting his composure back. “I do want to talk to your captain, though. Are they available?”

“I do not understand.”

“Could we talk to your mommy or daddy?” Dr. Corbair snapped.

“You do not want to march?”

“We already said no,” Mike replied.

“That is…troubling,” the lieutenant replied. Without another word, she joined a passing group of officers and marched away.

“Does that mean we can leave?” Wodak asked, drawing a shrug and a grunt from Pafal-Sris.

“Sounds like it to me,” Dr. Corbair said. She turned to Mike. “Tell your sister that playtime’s over, and let’s get out of here.”

“This is weird,” Mike said.

“Yep. Sure is. Let’s go.”

“No. It’s weird weird.”

“Saying that twice doesn’t make me care any more.” Dr. Corbair spotted a young Vulcan male in a gold Starfleet tunic heading their direction. “And now we’ve missed our window. Brilliant, Mike.”

“You do not want to march?” the Vulcan, an ensign judging by the braid on his sleeve, asked.

“Not this again,” Dr. Corbair said.

“No,” Mike said. “Can we talk to your captain?”

“That is…troubling.”

“So we heard.”

“But we can leave, so we don’t trouble you anymore,” Dr. Corbair added.

“No. You will not leave until I understand.”

“When do we get to understand?” Dr. Corbair asked. “And why are we talking to another flunky?” She looked out into the crowd of marching officers and crew and called, “Captain…Whoever you are! CAPTAIN! I demand to see the captain of this ship!”

“Would you not do that?” Mike snapped.

“I don’t see you doing anything.”

Mike turned his attention back to the Vulcan. “I’m sorry about my colleague, but she does have a point. We haven’t been told why we were brought on board your ship. I don’t want to start threatening legal action, but we really need to talk to someone in command. Isn’t that logical? Can you help us out here?”

“No. You will be taken to the brig until I understand,” the Vulcan said. On cue, several officers broke from their marching formations and closed in on the Clydesdale crew. Ronnie, meanwhile, kept right on marching, seemingly oblivious to what was happening to her brother and shipmates.

“I knew the brig was going to be involved here at some point,” Mike muttered.


The officers that took (well marched really) the Clydesdale crew to the Ventus’ brig didn’t make much small talk. Or talk at all. Instead, they silently shoved Bork and Duv into one cell, Mike and Dr. Corbair in another, and then Smash, Pafal-Sris, and Wodak in a third before marching back on out of the cell block.

Mike began to pace as Corbair settled in on their cell’s one cot. None of this was making sense. And what the hell was going on with Ronnie? Did she know some of the crew from her time in Starfleet? Was she that big of a fan of marching?

“How much trouble do you think we’re in, boss?” Smash asked from his cell across the block.

“I…have no idea,” Mike said shaking his head and letting out an unexpected chuckle. The whole thing was just so ridiculous.

“We wouldn’t be in any if it weren’t for the moron who decided to use our ship to smuggle relics!” Bork snapped.

“Don’t you try to pin this on me!” Duv shouted back. “No one knew what I was doing. Something you idiots did brought Starfleet down on us. I’m just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Doing the wrong thing!” Bork said. “Any object of Tellarite manufacture created before 2200 is subject to the Historical Preservation Act of 2234 and is therefore prohibited from removal from the…”

“Bork, please. Not now,” Mike said.

“He has this coming!”

“But we don’t. Wait until you two are alone.”

“Very well, but don’t think I’m going to forget about this.”

“Of course not,” Duv said. “You only forget things like your duty to your fianceé.”

“You…”

“NOT NOW!” Mike shouted. “We have to deal with Starfleet.”

“Maybe,” Dr. Corbair said.

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure yet, but you can’t begin to tell me that any of this is normal Starfleet behavior. Either there’s something so serious going on involving the cargo we’re carrying that Starfleet won’t talk to us, or it’s something else entirely. And considering what we’ve seen so far, I really doubt it’s the former.”

“Wait. Which one’s the former?” Smash asked.

“The cargo one.”

“Oh. Good. That means it’s not our fault.”

“Does it really make much of a difference at this point? We’re still sitting in a brig,” Mike said.

“I brought cards,” Wodak offered. “Anyone up for a game?”

“Tempting if I wasn’t in A DIFFERENT CELL!” Bork shouted.

Mike had stopped pacing, and he now stood completely still concentrating.

“What is it?” Corbair asked.

“We’re not moving.”

“How can you tell? It’s not like…”

“He’s right,” Bork said. “I’m not feeling anything either. We’re still at all-stop.”

“Maybe they’re not done searching your ship,” Duv said. “And just so we’re clear, you’ll be reimbursing Annar’s Exports for any lost cargo.”

Probably Gravit & Yurtz too, Mike thought to himself. And then neither company would ever hire him again after finding out that he’d tried to run shipments for both of them at the same time.

“I still don’t think they care about the ship,” Corbair said.

“We’re not going to find out until…” Mike trailed off as the doors to the cell block whooshed open allowing someone to enter.

“Ronnie!” Mike exclaimed. “Are you okay? What’s going on? Are they going to let us out?”

Ronnie stopped in front of their cell and stared intently through the force field at Mike and Corbair for several moments, almost like she was looking for something.

“Ronnie?”

“Why don’t you march?” Ronnie asked finally.

“Um…because I don’t want to?” Mike said. “Would marching get us out of here?”

“I still do not understand.”

She was talking like the Starfleet officers in the rec room. Mike exchanged a look with Dr. Corbair, who had come to the same realization. Corbair hopped up off of the cot and joined Mike by the force field.

“Ronnie, are you in there?” Corbair asked. “How do you feel right now?”

“Ronnie is here but not now. I feel very good. This body is nice.”

“Hey! That’s my sister,” Mike said.

“What’s your favorite part?” Corbair asked.

“I don’t need to hear this,” Mike said.

“This mind. It’s very good. So much gooder than the Vulcan,” whatever was controlling Ronnie replied.

“Oh! It loves her for her mind. Right!” Mike said. “Like I haven’t heard that one before! If you do anything…naughty with my sister’s body, I’m going to…”

“March?” Ronnie’s controller asked hopefully.

“No. We don’t want to march,” Corbair said.

“I do not understand,” Ronnie’s controller said. “We will march.” And with that, Ronnie marched right on out of the cell block.

“Overprotective much?” Corbair snapped, turning on Mike.

“I don’t like guys…or things taking advantage of my sister.”

“Remind me never to tell you about her and James T. Kirk.”

“What about her and Kirk? Did that…”

“Can I tell him not now?” Bork called from his cell.

“Please,” Corbair said.

“NOT NOW!”

“Okay. Okay,” Mike said, holding his hands up.

“And even with your efforts to ruin my line of questioning, we still got some valuable information,” Corbair said. “There’s something on board this ship controlling the crew…and Ronnie.”

“But not us,” Smash said. “What’s so special about us?”

“I don’t know,” Corbair said. “We may be asking the wrong question, though. What’s so NOT special about us that is special about Ronnie and the crew of the Ventus?”

“They’re all Starfleet,” Mike said. “Or were, in Ronnie’s case.”

“It can’t be that simple.”

“Why not? Whatever this thing is seems to be obsessed with marching. I know Ronnie did a hell of a lot of marching at the Academy, and I’d bet the enlisted crew do it at their boot camp. It’s ingrained. Part of the military mind-set.”

“What do we do?” Smash said. “It might not ever let us out of here. It probably won’t even remember to feed us!”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Duv said. “Obviously the other bodies it’s controlling must be eating, right?”

“Did you see any food?” Bork said. “We have no idea how long this has been going on.”

“Probably not too long,” Mike said. “Starfleet would know something was wrong when the Ventus didn’t report in. This is well-traveled space we’re talking about here.”

“So help could already be on the way,” Smash said hopefully.

“If you consider another whole ship of Starfleet folks that this thing can take over helpful,” Mike said.

“Ohhhhhhhhhhh.”

“We’re getting out of here,” Mike said. “And we’re taking Ronnie with us.”

“You’re insane!” Duv said. “No. This whole thing is insane. People possessed by some…whatever? No. That doesn’t happen. This is a trick or something. NO! It’s a STING! That sister of yours never left Starfleet, did she? You knew what I was planning all along! And now you want me to break out of a brig, so you can hit me with even more charges. Uh uh. NO WAY! I see what’s happening, and I am staying RIGHT HERE!”

“Glad to hear it. One less person I have to worry about,” Mike said.

“I’ll stay with him,” Bork said.

“What?”

“Annar wouldn’t forgive me if something happened to her nephew. I’ll keep an eye on him.”

“Like you care about her…or me,” Duv said.

“Her yes. You no. But I’ll do this for her.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Mike said. “We’ll get you two back.” He turned to Corbair. “But what about you, Doctor?”

“What about me?”

“You’re on probation, and I am talking about escaping from Starfleet custody, which could put you back in a rehab colony for a long time. Even with the extenuating circumstances, I’d understand if you decided not to take the risk.”

“Mike, that’s honestly very sweet of you to say, but I’m not staying in this damn cell. If you can get us out of here, do it.”

“Smash.”

“Coming, bossman,” Smash replied. The Rigellan punched his massive fist through the wall plating beside the door frame and ripped out a huge handful of wires and conduit, causing the force field of his cell to spark, flicker, and then shut down altogether. He lumbered over to Mike and Corbair’s cell and deactivated its force field as Pafal-Sris and Wodak scooped up their playing cards and joined the group.

Mike jogged out of their cell and shut down the force field imprisoning Bork and Duv. Duv just glared back and refused to move. “We’ll get you when we’re ready,” Mike told Bork.

“We’ll be here,” Bork replied.

“You already have a plan in place for escaping a Starfleet ship?” Dr. Corbair asked, honestly astonished.

“Don’t I wish,” Mike said. “We’re just going to have to figure it out as we go.”

Corbair shrugged. “Still better than staying here.”


“He’s stuck again,” Wodak called from behind Smash as the five Clydesdale crewmembers crawled through the jefferies tubes of the USS Ventus. Considering that Smash’s bulk was now completely blocking the tube, cutting Wodak and Pafal-Sris off from Mike and Dr. Corbair, Wodak’s voice was fairly muffled.

“Sorry, bossman,” Smash said…for the fifth time since the group had entered the tube network.

“Oh yeah. Coming in here was a fantastic plan,” Corbair sighed.

“I told you I was making it up as we go,” Mike said.

“Yes, but I didn’t think you’d be so terrible at it!”

“Do you want to get caught?”

“By whom? There’s nobody in the corridors or in any of the rooms we’ve checked. The entire crew is either marching in the rec room or presumably on the bridge, since somebody had to steer them toward us.”

“We don’t know that for certain.”

“Okay. Let’s talk about what you do know. For example, do you actually know where this Auxiliary Control room is?”

“Well…no, but I know they have one. Starfleet ships can actually afford things like redundant systems.”

“Jealous much?”

“I’m just saying.”

“And I’m just saying that it would be a hell of a lot easier to find if we could walk through the corridors like normal people and read the damn door plaques.”

“Fine. We’ll use the next access hatch we find. Now help me grab an arm. Paf, Wodak, we’re going on three. One, two, THREE!” Mike and Corbair pulled as Wodak and Pafal-Sris pushed on Smash, finally popping the Rigellan free. Fortunately, about ten yards farther down the tube, the group found an access hatch back into a corridor. The plaque beside the door across the hall read, “Auxiliary Control.”

“Ha! Perfect!” Mike said.

“You did not plan that,” Corbair said.

“Didn’t need to. Here it is.”

“Lucky bastard.”

“Would you rather roam the halls for a while longer and risk getting caught?”

“Not a chance,” Corbair said, pushing past Mike and entering the Auxiliary Control room.

“See if you can get a comm to Noov,” Mike said following after Corbair as she took a seat at a terminal. “And if he’s not answering, try accessing the Clydesdale’s systems. We might be able to…”

“I’m in.”

“Oh. That makes things simpler,” Mike replied, taking a seat of his own at another console. “Can you beam the guys back over to the ship?”

“What do you think ‘I’m in’ meant? I have access to all of the Clydesdale’s systems, including the transporter. Locking on.”

“Um…you can’t do that. Sorry,” Smash said.

“What do you mean?”

“We filled the transporter room with some of the extra cargo. The transporter pad is completely covered.”

“And in another victory for your plan, you forget what’s going on in your own ship,” Corbair said.

“Fine!” Mike snapped. “We’ll use one of the Ventus’ transporter rooms.” He pulled up a ship schematic on his console. “There’s one right down the hall. Let’s go.”

“I’ll be here making sure the bridge doesn’t see you activate a transporter,” Corbair said. “Since that wasn’t a part of your plan either.”

“You do that.”

“You okay, boss?” Smash asked as they headed out into the corridor. “You look a bit stressed.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Mike said.

“Well…we’ve been kidnapped. Ronnie’s possessed.”

“I’m okay, Smash. But I need you guys to empty out that transporter room as soon as you get on board and then keep a look out for Tellarite life signs. As soon as you can lock on to Bork and Duv, get them out of here.”

“Sure thing. But what about you and the Doc?” Smash said, following Mike into one of the Ventus’s transporter rooms and then stepping up onto the pad with Wodak and Pafal-Sris as Mike headed to the console.

“Once we get Ronnie, we’ll figure something out. Stay close to the transporter. We may need you to get us out in a hurry.”

“You got it.”

“Oh. Wake Noov up and tell him to get to the helm. We may have to run for it.”

“Can we outrun a starship?”

“Hopefully we won’t have to find out. See you soon.” Mike activated the transporter, sending his men back to the Clydesdale.


There seemed to be something inherently ridiculous about sitting in a cell pretending to be a prisoner when said cell’s force field wasn’t active and not a single guard was present. At this point Bork wasn’t sure if Duv was insisting on remaining in the cell out of fear of Starfleet or just out of spite.

Tellarites were masters of spite, so Bork wouldn’t have been at all surprised if it was the latter. But whether Duv was being spiteful or not, Bork had promised to remain with him. It was the least he could do for Annar.

“I blame you for this, you know,” Duv said.

“I’m sure you do,” Bork replied. “Of course I planned all of this right from the start, thus ensuring that your aunt would send you with us, so that I could psychically force you to illegally transport historical relics and deliver you right into the hands of a Starfleet ship that has been taken over by some kind of alien presence. In retrospect, my scheme was so obvious that I’m astounded you fell for it.”

“If you had just done what you were supposed to do, neither of us would be here,” Duv snapped.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Really? I don’t know anything about tradition? Or family? You made a promise. You had a duty!”

“Duv, I’m not going to talk about this.”

“Why would you? You ran away from my aunt. You want to run away from Starfleet. And now you’re trying to run away from this conversation.”

“I didn’t run away.”

“Yes, you did! She loved you. You promised to marry her. She brought you into our family, but you decided that hiding in the bowels of one of the crappiest ships I’ve ever seen meant more to you than Annar!”

“That’s not what happened,” Bork said, fighting to keep his voice calm.

“You have no idea what family means!” Duv shouted, advancing on Bork. “I don’t know why she even speaks to you, much less puts cargo on your piece of junk ship. Yeah, maybe I’m selling a few relics, but you are a disgrace to Tellar! You should be in prison for what you did to her!”

And that was the end of calm. “SHE LEFT ME!” Bork bellowed.


“Okay. That’s done, and they’re going to dig out our transporter,” Mike said, re-entering Auxiliary Control.

“Uh huh,” Corbair said distractedly as she watched her readouts.

“What are you looking at?”

“Just marching. Lots of marching.”

“Is Ronnie still with them?”

“Yes indeed.”

“Great. So we have to somehow sneak her out of there, get back to the ship, and then hope we can fly far enough away that she won’t be under the influence of whatever’s controlling the crew anymore.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Mike demanded. “We’re not leaving Ronnie here.”

“If I’d wanted to do that, I would have gone back to the ship. That’s not the problem.”

“Then what is?”

“Were you listening when she came to see us in the brig? The thing controlling her said that her body was so much better than the Vulcan’s. Well, it said ‘gooder,’ but the point is a Vulcan was in charge when we were brought here. Whatever this thing is may be controlling the whole crew, but it was inside the Vulcan.”

“And now it’s in Ronnie.”

“If we take her, we may end up freeing the Ventus’ crew, but we’re still going to have to deal with what’s inside her.”

“I’d rather do that where it doesn’t have a whole ship full of lackeys at its disposal. We’re getting her out of here.”

“Just how do you plan to do that?” Corbair asked, gesturing at the monitor in front of her, which was displaying the internal security vid view of the rec room, where dozens of red, blue, and gold shirted Starfleet Officers were marching in perfectly formed rows. On the floor near the wall of the room, Mike could make out what appeared to be a small pile of unconscious (hopefully not dead) crewmembers.

“Bork may have been right. She’s marching them until they drop. When did they last eat or drink anything?”

“Or use the bathroom,” Corbair said.

“Ewww.”

“It’s the logical next step.”

“We’re not talking about that anymore. New plan.”

“We had an old plan?”

“How tall do you think that rec room is?” Mike asked. “Twenty feet?”

“It looks like about two decks, so probably. Why?”

“I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need supplies.”

“You have a plan? Is it better than the last one?” Corbair called after Mike as he rushed out of Auxiliary Control. He didn’t respond. “I’m betting on ‘no,’” Corbair muttered.


Once he’d gotten over the initial shock of Bork screaming at him, Duv had been prepared to tear into the Clydesdale’s engineer, accusing Bork not only of disrespecting Annar but also of being a disgusting liar, but the look on Bork’s face stopped him. There was no defiance or smug superiority. If anything he looked horrified and ashamed at what he’d just admitted.

“Bork…”

“I’m not talking about this anymore.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“No one knew. That was the point.”

“I always wondered why she never seemed mad at you. I thought she was just blinded by love. Or hiding her feelings because you’d hurt her so badly.”

“So you thought you’d be mad at her for me?”

“She’s family. That’s what you do for family.”

“Maybe you need to rethink that. If history has taught us anything, it’s that allowing personal squabbles to become family feuds can lead to generations of pain and even bloodshed. Very likely the Klozslikian Civil Wars owe their genesis to a dispute of the placement of a garden wall between the properties of the Enkis and…”

“I don’t need the Tellarite history lesson.”

“It seemed relevant.”

“What would be relevant is you telling me why my aunt broke up with you.”

“She just said that it wasn’t what she wanted.”

“It…as in marriage?” Duv asked.

“It’s been almost ten years now, and she hasn’t married anyone else, has she?”

“No.”

“But she’s happy?”

“She seems to be. She goes out, has lots of friends, and she loves running the business. Honestly, I thought that she would have retired and handed it over to me by now.”

“She’s not that old.”

“Who said anything about being old? She could do whatever she wanted with all she’s earned. I would.”

“You’re not her,” Bork said.

“You still love her, don’t you?”

“I don’t know her anymore. Johgren once wrote that we often are more in love with the idea of a person than the actual person. I used to dream about Annar almost every night, and I came to realize that the woman in my dreams was quite literally the woman of my dreams rather than the real Annar. Once I saw that, I…”

Duv was about to cut Bork off again, when a transporter beam did the job for him, disassembling the two Tellarites. Moments later, they reformed in the Clydesdale’s small transporter room (a room made even smaller by the stacks of cargo crates all around). Before Duv could take in his new surroundings, Wodak slapped a black bag over his head, and he and Pafal-Sris dragged him out of the transporter room.

“What was that for?” Bork demanded, storming over to Smash, who was manning the transporter controls.

“I didn’t think Mike would want Duv seeing these,” Smash said, gesturing at the crates all around them that were quite clearly labeled “Gravit & Yurtz.”

“Oh. Good idea. Have you heard anything from Mike?”

“No. But he said to be ready to run. Noov’s on the bridge waiting for the word, and he is NOT happy. That man does not like it when people wake him up early.”

“He can deal with it. But I’ll go calm Duv down. Otherwise, he’s liable to have Wodak and Paf arrested as soon as we get to Antares…assuming we get that far.”

“Thanks, Bork-man.”

“Don’t…call me that. Ever,” Bork said as he walked out of the room.

“Not a fan of the Bork-man. Got it,” Smash said, then he set about waiting for word from Mike.


“I’d just like to note for the record that not only is this plan worse than your last one, it may very well be the stupidest plan ever conceived by man,” Dr. Corbair’s voice said though the speaker of the Starfleet-issue communicator that Mike had “borrowed” from a supply locker.

“I didn’t hear you offering up a different one,” Mike replied, walking through the Ventus’ deserted corridors with the communicator in one hand and his creation in the other.

“I’m not the captain. Plans are your job.”

“And don’t you forget it. Now are you ready on your end?”

“Ready and all a-tingle with excitement.”

“Good. These boots are killing me,” Mike said as he arrived at the entrance to the rec room. “Shut it down.”

“Deactivated. And I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Mike counted to twenty in his head, then clomped into the rec room, his gravity boots keeping him firmly planted on the deck while the remainder of the rec room’s occupants, all three hundred of them, floated helplessly several feet above his head, which is what tended to happen when the artificial gravity in a room was shut down.

“WE CANNOT MARCH!” all of the officers and Ronnie shouted at him in unison, which had the effect of creeping Mike out more than a little bit.

“Marchy time’s over,” he said, searching the horde for Ronnie. Once he spotted her, he readied his creation, a long pole with an even longer cable attached. It didn’t quite have the feel of his old fishing rod, but it would get the job done. He cast the cable, which had been weighted at the far end, and sent it sailing toward Ronnie. It wrapped around her waist a couple of times and held firm.

“Ha!” Mike exclaimed happily as he set about reeling her in. By the time Ronnie, or whatever was controlling her really, realized what was happening and tried to send in her enslaved Starfleet Officers to grab onto her, it was too late. Mike pulled her down below their level then spun her in the air, wrapping the cable around her a few more times to pin her arms to her sides.

“March?” Ronnie wailed.

“Not right now,” Mike said, putting his sister over his shoulder and clomping back out of the rec room…

…where Ronnie suddenly got a hell of a lot heavier.

“Unnh!” Mike groaned, trying to keep from collapsing to his knees in front of Dr. Corbair, who was leaning casually against the wall on the opposite side of the corridor.

“I’ll be damned. That worked,” she said.

“Yeah, but she’s probably contacted her lackeys on the bridge by now. We’ve got to go.”

Corbair opened her “borrowed” communicator and adjusted the signal. “Clydesdale. Come in, Clydesdale.”

“RESPONDING,” Noov’s mechanical sounding voice, a side effect of the fluorine breathing mask he had to wear outside of his quarters, replied. “READY?”

“Yes!” Mike said. “Lock onto these coordinates and beam us back…but leave the communicators here.” Corbair glared at him. “I am not stealing Starfleet property,” he insisted, tossing his communicator to the desk. Corbair rolled her eyes and dropped hers as well. Down the corridor, they heard the whoosh of doors opening followed closely by running footfalls. And then all they heard was the hum of the transporter.

Back on the Clydesdale a moment later, Mike stumbled over to Smash, who easily scooped Ronnie up in his arms. “Thanks,” Mike gasped. “Get her to the medbay.”

“It’s full.”

“Just put her in her quarters,” Corbair said. “I’ll get the restraints.”

“No march?” Ronnie’s possessor whimpered.

“No,” Corbair said, flashing her an evil grin. “No marching for you.”

Mike, meanwhile, activated the comm panel on the transporter console. “Noov, we’re aboard. GO! GO GO GO GO GO!”

“AFFIRMATIVE. RETURN TO SLEEP?”

“Yeah yeah. You can go. I’ll be right there to take over,” Mike said. Some people just had no appreciation for a daring escape.


Mike’s eyes had been locked on the sensors from the moment he’d relieved Noov on the Clydesdale’s bridge half an hour earlier. At any moment, he expected to see the Ventus racing in to overtake them. Even with the freighter’s engines pushed to the max, they were no match for a starship. On the bright side, such as it was, they were making up some of the time they’d lost on the journey to Antares. Yes, they were currently running away from the Ventus, but that didn’t mean that they couldn’t run toward the planet they were supposed to be going to in the first place.

The turbolift opened, allowing Dr. Corbair to step out on the bridge.

“How is she?” Mike asked without looking away from the sensor display.

“Restrained and hopefully getting very bored.”

“Bored? You didn’t sedate her?”

“What would be the point? I don’t know if you can sedate an energy-based lifeform. I want it to sit there doing nothing. You want to come see her, though?”

“I can’t. The Ventus could be on us any second.”

Corbair chuckled. “I don’t think so.”

A realization hit Mike. “What did you do?”

“Nothing too bad,” Corbair said. “Mainly just deleted some software here and there. It won’t put the ship at risk, but they’ll need to do a few restores before they’re able to go anywhere or contact anyone…assuming they have backups on board. I also shut down their sensors, so they won’t have any record of which way we went.”

“It’s still five days to Antares, and we’ve got to deal with that thing in my sister before we get anywhere near anyone from Starfleet that it could take over,” Mike said. “What the hell is with that anyway? Why Starfleet? Is this thing a weapon of some kind?”

“Let’s go ask it.”


As Corbair said, Ronnie’s body had been completely strapped down to the bed in her quarters, arms still pinned at her sides and restraints binding everything from her feet to her forehead. She couldn’t even turn her head to look when Mike and Dr. Corbair entered the bedroom.

“I want to march,” the thing in Ronnie said upon hearing others enter the room. “Why can’t I march?”

“Because you want to march with a body that’s not yours,” Mike said.

“But you won’t march for me.”

“No. I won’t. Now who are you?”

“I am Light.”

“Your name is Light?” Mike asked.

“That’s what they called me, so I guess so.”

“Who called you Light?”

“My old marchers. They don’t march anymore.”

“Why not? What happened to them? Did you kill them?”

“What is kill?”

“I think I know what happened,” Corbair said.

“This thing marched everyone it ever met to death.”

“More than that. According to their logs…”

“You broke into their logs?”

“I had some time to kill while you were off building your fishing pole. Now are you going to listen to me or not?”

“Okay. Go on.”

“Thank you. The Ventus had just left Ontekelon a day before they ran into us.”

“So? Ontekelon isn’t anything special. The Federation colonized it almost a hundred years ago.”

“True, but there was a civilization on Ontekelon some time before that. They wiped themselves out over a thousand years ago. The Ventus was delivering an archeological team to a dig site of what they believe was a military academy for one of the ancient Ontekelon nation-states. From what they’ve been able to tell, the academy was sealed off and attacked by their own military. The archaeologists suspected a contagion, but I’m betting it was our new friend here.”

“If we’re friends now, can I march?” Light asked.

“No!” Mike and Corbair snapped.

“So Light somehow ended up at this academy,” Mike said, “fell in love with the marching…”

“And the uniforms. They were so pretty,” Light said.

“It took over everyone there,” Corbair said. “Eventually the Ontekelon military must have decided that sealing it up and obliterating everyone inside was all they could do.”

“No more marching,” Light said sadly.

“Then a thousand years later, someone from Starfleet shows up, Light senses the military mindset, and it swoops in. That person goes back to the Ventus, and suddenly it’s marchy time again.”

“That’s my guess,” Corbair said. “And it was able to force the Ventus’ crew to fly the ship, capture us, and so on. Unfortunately for it, we didn’t fit the military mold.”

“No offense, but it’s kind of crazy. What sort of entity does this?”

“I like marching,” Light said.

“A…special one,” Corbair said. “But in its defense, I don’t think Light has a clue that it’s hurting people…or what hurting is…or maybe even what people are. It could think we’re toys for all we know.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel sorry for it?” Mike asked.

“Ick. No. Why would you do that? This thing’s a complete idiot,” Corbair said.

“Okay…that’s kind of harsh.”

“I still like marching,” Light said.

“Let’s just get it out of Ronnie.”

“I’m working on it,” Corbair said.

“You’ll tell me if there’s anything I can do to help.”

“Of course. You go worry about the ship. I’ll take care of things here.”

“Thanks, Janet.”

Corbair smiled kindly and patted Mike on the arm. The Clydesdale’s captain took one more look at his sister, then left the quarters. Corbair’s smile instantly vanished.

“Now then, Light. You and I are going to have absolutely no fun at all. I can’t wait.”


It turned out that having no fun at all with Light was a lot less fun than Dr. Corbair had anticipated. Considering the being’s almost childlike demeanor, Corbair believed that it would get bored and leave Ronnie within a matter of hours. Instead for the last three days, she had variations on this same conversation over and over again:

“I want to march. Can I march?”

“No. No marching. If you want to march, you’ll have to find somewhere else to do it and someone else to do it with.”

“No.”

“Get out.”

“No.”

“Then you’re going to keep laying there.”

“Okay.”

A few moments of silence would pass and then…

“I want to march. Can I march?”

Lather, rinse, repeat…incessantly.

Of course, during all of this Corbair still had to look after Ronnie’s body, which meant keeping it hydrated, fed, and then dealing with the waste products from keeping her hydrated and fed. It was really a lot more contact with Ronnie (or with anyone else, for that matter) than Corbair had ever wanted.

On the morning of day four, Dr. Corbair came to the realization that she had not taken one important factor into account in her calculations. Light had waited a millennium for a new host. A couple of days of boredom probably wasn’t going to mean much after that. She’d been going about things all wrong. It was time for a change in tactics and to steal a few things from Bork’s stash of supplies.

Corbair spent most of the morning getting things ready and dealing with Mike’s ever-more-anxious queries about her progress. As it was, the Clydesdale was going to get into port just in time to deliver the necklace they’d been subcontracted to transport as well as their overabundance of cargo crates. But if Light wasn’t gone, Mike couldn’t risk approaching Antares. At least that’s what he said. Corbair told him they should just go anyway. Light would either stay in Ronnie or find a better host. Either way they could deliver the cargo.

Still she had her own reasons for preferring to have Light dealt with before they arrived at Antares. With everything ready, she returned to Ronnie’s quarters, where Ronnie’s body lay staring blankly at the ceiling.

“I want to march. Can I march?” Light asked as Corbair entered.

“No, but I have something almost as good.”

“Really?”

“Yes. And I’m sorry that we’ve kept you imprisoned like this. We’re just worried about our friend. I can’t let you use her to march, but would you like to watch other people march?”

“I do not understand.”

“If you come with me, I can take you somewhere on the ship where you can watch marching all you want. And then tomorrow we will be arriving at a planet where you can find bunches of new people to march with.”

“That sounds nice.”

“I thought you’d like that. But it will only happen if you come with me. Otherwise, we’ll leave you here, and we won’t go to the planet.”

“I will come.”

“That’s wonderful,” Corbair said, forcing a friendly smile. Ronnie’s body began to glow more and more brightly until a blinding white ball of energy slipped out of her torso and rose up above the bed. “Light” was definitely an accurate description. Ronnie gasped for a moment and then collapsed unconscious.

“This way please,” Corbair said, leading Light out into the corridor of Deck Three and into the turbolift, which took them down one level. One short walk (or hover in Light’s case) later, and they entered the medbay. Corbair had spent the morning moving the crates that had been stashed in there up against the walls as best she could and clearing a view of the room’s one vidscreen, which was currently running a loop of every clip of people marching that the Clydesdale’s computer had been able to find in a search of the ship’s media library.

“Oooh. Very nice,” Light said moving straight toward the screen. It didn’t stop and hit the surface with a crackle.

“It’s just a movie. You can’t go into it.”

“Movie?”

“A picture that moves.”

“Picture.”

“Just don’t touch it,” Corbair said. “Are you okay in here?”

“Such precision.”

“I’ll take that as a yes. I’ll be back to check on you in a little while.”

Corbair slipped back out into the corridor and pulled a small control device out of the pocket of her jacket. “Time for some new accommodations,” she said, pressing the device’s lone button.

Inside the medbay, several force field generators that Corbair had hidden among the cargo crates hummed to life. The fields, acting in a pre-programmed sequence, grew and merged together, enveloping the room, and then began to push inward. Light was completely unaware of this until the field edge reached it. With a sudden shock, it was pushed back.

And then down.

And down and back.

It could not fight the energy pushing it toward a jar-like container that was sitting open on the floor of the room. Soon Light had been forced inside the container and was only able to see out through the top and small clear panel on one side. Dr. Corbair peered in from above. “Well, isn’t this cozy?”

“You will release me.”

“No, I won’t. In fact…” Corbair picked up the container, set it down on her lab table, and then sealed the lid on top of it. “That’s an antimatter containment unit with its own self-contained force field generator,” she said, “which probably means nothing to you, so let me give you the easy version. You’re trapped. I could shoot you out into space right now, and it’d be a good year or so before the power unit gave out releasing you. But considering the trouble you’ve caused me, that would be too nice. You can sit here.”

“Can I still watch the marching?” Light asked plaintively.

“Yeah fine. You can watch the marching.” Corbair turned the clear section of the container toward the vidscreen.

“Ahhhhh,” Light sighed contentedly.

“Unbelievable,” Corbair muttered as she left the medbay.


She got back to Ronnie’s quarters just as Ronnie was waking up. Corbair activated the room’s comm panel. “Mike, it’s gone. Ronnie’s back.”

“I’m on my way,” Mike’s voice said.

“What the hell?” Ronnie said, realizing that she couldn’t move. “Get me out of this!”

“Maybe we should wait for Mike,” Corbair said, fighting back a laugh.

“Janet!”

“Okay. Okay,” Corbair said, undoing the restraints starting at Ronnie’s head and working her way down.

Mike arrived just as Corbair made it to Ronnie’s knees. “Ronnie!” he cried, rushing over.

“Let me finish!” Corbair snapped.

“Sorry.”

Corbair untied the last restraint, and Mike swooped in, grabbing Ronnie up off of the bed. “You’re okay?” he asked. “You don’t want to march?”

“Why would I want to do that?” Ronnie asked. She frowned as she realized something didn’t feel right. She pulled out her waistband and looked down. “Am I in a diaper?”

“It was that or a catheter,” Corbair said.

“Do I even want to know what happened?”

“It’s a long story,” Mike said.

“You were possessed by an energy being. We tied you up. It got bored and left,” Corbair said.

“Well…those are the high points,” Mike said.

“Wait. Wasn’t Starfleet arresting us?” Ronnie asked.

“Kind of, but not really. It’s not important. You must be starving. Lunch?”

“Yeah. Eating would be good,” Ronnie said.

“And Light’s gone?” Mike asked Corbair.

“Oh yes. Fled the ship. I don’t think it can travel at warp, so it will be decades or maybe centuries until it reaches an inhabited world. If it ever does.”

“Thank you, Janet,” Mike said. “I owe you for this.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad everything worked out,” Corbair replied. “Go get Ronnie fed.”

Mike wrapped his arm around his sister’s shoulders and walked her out of the room. Actually, now that Corbair thought about it, she could stand to eat as well. It had been a busy morning, but one that was liable to be quite lucrative once they arrived at Antares. She’d get some lunch and then reinstall the force field generators back into three of the four antimatter containment units that she’d taken from the engine room supply lockers. As for the fourth, it was occupied. Corbair would come up with something to tell Bork if he ever realized it was missing. Maybe she could find a replacement on Antares, but honestly it wasn’t at the top of her list of things to do. She was after something far more important.


“And…” The Clydesdale jolted ever so slightly. “We’re docked,” Ronnie finished. “Airlock seals are clean and moorings are in place.” She spun her chair toward Mike, who was manning the navigation end of the console. “Don’t screw things up when you move her.”

“I won’t,” he said. He handed her a small box containing the necklace that had sent them to Antares in the first place. “You sure you’re up to deliver this?”

“Up for beaming down to a planet and walking into a jewelry store? I think I can handle it,” Ronnie said, snatching the box away from her brother. The pair headed into the turbolift and traveled down to Deck Four, where Smash, Wodak, and Pafal-Sris were getting ready to unload the cargo modules…the ones holding Annar’s Exports cargo, at any rate. Mike give his crew a nod, grabbed a manifest padd, then walked with Ronnie through the closest module and out its airlock into the waiting bay of Antares cargo transfer station beyond.

A rather striking Antaran woman rushed toward him as soon as he entered the cargo bay. “Good. You’re here,” she said quickly.

“We’re right on time, aren’t we?” Mike asked, trying not to stare at her eyes. They were large with incredibly blue irises that drew him right in. “I mean…I think…”

“No, you’re fine.”

“I’m getting out of here,” Ronnie said, holding up the box and making her way to the doors on the other side of the cargo bay that led into the transfer station proper.

“Be careful!” Mike called after her.

“I’m older than you! Stop babying me!”

“I’m not!” Mike shouted, but Ronnie was out the doors and gone.

“You were a little,” the Antaran woman said.

“She’s my sister. I’m allowed. Now, Miss…”

“Eerdani,” she replied.

“Miss Eerdani. I’m Captain Harper. Mike. Now if you’ll just sign for this delivery from Annar’s Exports, we’ll start unloading.” He handed a padd to her.

“How long will this take?” she asked as she signed the device.

“An hour or two. We’ll do our best to make it speedy.”

“Thank you. I appreciate that,” she said.

“Madam Eerdani!” Duv called, exiting the Clydesdale’s airlock with Bork close behind. Duv was loaded down with his luggage, but he waddled over as quickly as he could. “My aunt Annar sends her fondest regards and thanks you for your business.”

“Er…thank her for me,” Eerdani said.

Duv turned to Mike. “Captain, thank you for the transportation.”

“You’re welcome,” Mike replied.

“Okay then. I’m going to go.”

“You do that.”

“So we don’t need to discuss the items…”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mike said. “Enjoy your stay on Antares.”

“I will. Thank you again.” He nodded at Bork. “Goodbye.”

“Farewell,” Bork said, returning the nod. With that, Duv rushed off toward the bay exit.

“Wow,” Mike said. “That was almost friendly.”

“We came to an understanding,” Bork said.

“Over his luggage?”

“Something like that,” Bork said. “I’ll be on the ship.”

“If you don’t need anything more from me, I should run. I have other appointments this afternoon,” Eerdani said.

“Oh! Of course,” Mike said, hoping that his disappointment didn’t come across in his voice. He really should have been helping Smash and the guys anyway instead of gawking at Eerdani. “Nice to meet you.”

“You as well,” Eerdani said, flashing him a lovely smile before she too exited the cargo bay.

Mike sighed and headed back into the Clydesdale, where he met Dr. Corbair coming the other way with a duffle bag over her shoulder.

“I’m off to shop!” she said, waving cheerily.

“Um…you know you can’t go alone. We’re all busy with the cargo, so…”

“Come on, Mike. I’m just going to stretch my legs a bit. I’m not going to get into any trouble. The last thing we want right now is any attention from the authorities.”

Mike thought it over for a moment. “Fine. Have fun,” Mike he said before joining Smash, Wodak, and Pafal-Sris. “Remember, guys. Only the Annar’s Exports crates.”

“Got it, bossman.”

And they set to work as Corbair headed off into the transfer station.


With one load down, Mike undocked the Clydesdale and moved it across the cargo transfer complex, redocking at the bay where they were scheduled to meet the recipient of the Gravit & Yurtz crates. He was finally starting to feel like he could relax. Duv was gone without ever realizing that Mike was carrying cargo for Annar’s Exports’ rival. Ronnie had commed after successfully delivering the necklace, and their fee had already been transferred into Mike’s account. Once they got the Gravit & Yurtz cargo unloaded, Mike was ready for some much-deserved relaxation. He’d planned to give everybody a day or two on Antares anyway, but maybe he’d make it a little longer than that. They’d earned it.

While his docking wasn’t quite as smooth or gentle as Ronnie’s, it got the job done. Mike made his way back down to the cargo modules and headed through the airlock into the transfer station cargo bay only to find Eerdani waiting. Spotting Mike, her eyes widened in alarm.

“Um…hi,” Mike said, handing her the manifest padd to sign. “I’m guessing you’re not happy to see me.”

“No! No. Just…surprised.”

“Let me guess. Annar’s Exports and Gravit & Yurtz have each forced you to sign an exclusivity contract saying that you’ll only take shipments of Tellarite wares from them, which is really stupid.”

“Really! If I’m buying merchandise from them, why do they care who else I’m dealing with? And they both have different offerings! I can’t get everything I want from just one of them. This demand of theirs that I don’t…wait a second. How come you can run cargo for both of them?”

“I can’t,” Mike said with a grin. “But I won’t tell if you won’t.”

“I wish I’d known. I would have only reserved one cargo bay,” Eerdani said.

“Sorry about that. I’ll try to make it up to you.”

“Is that supposed to be a pick-up line, Captain Harper?”

“What? No! I just mean that we’d try to unload quickly. Why? Did you want it to be? It could be.”

“You have my contact info,” Eerdani said, handing the padd back to Mike. “When you make up your mind, let me know.” She spun on her heel and strode out of the cargo bay, pausing only for a moment to look back at Mike and smile.

Mike heard the deep chuckling of Smash coming up behind him. “Woah, bossman. You’re bad at this. No offense.”

“No. I was terrible. Do you think her hips move like that all the time when she walks, or was that just for me?”

“If it was for you, you’d better comm her. Even if it wasn’t, you’d still better.”

“I haven’t had a date for a while,” Mike said. “Could be fun. What about you guys?”

“Wodak wants to show us around his home town and then hit some casinos.”

“Wodak wants to go to a casino…or ten. There’s a shock.”

“Seriously.”

“All right. Let’s get this stuff unloaded, so we can actually go enjoy these plans we’re making,” Mike said.

“I’ll drive the hoverlift,” Smash said

“You going to hit the wall again?”

“You can drive the hoverlift.”


By early evening, the job was done, and the Clydesdale sat moored in a berth in one of the commercial docking facilities in orbit above Antares. Mike was the last crewmember left aboard, which was the way he wanted it. No one else needed to see him disembarking all dressed up for his date with Eerdani that evening (He’d even managed to wait until after they finished unloading the Gravit & Yurtz crates before comming her. He didn’t want to come across as too eager…even though he was. He really REALLY was.).

He secured the airlock leading into the ship and headed off down the docking concourse toward the transporter center in the main hub of the facility, but didn’t get far before…

“Captain Harper!”

Up ahead, a bearded and mustachioed man wearing the gold of a Starfleet command-track officer was flagging him down.

This was just what Mike needed right now. He froze, waiting for a parade of red shirts to storm toward him ready to take him into custody. That didn’t happen. “A word please, Captain Harper,” the officer said. “You are Mike Harper?”

Mike seriously considered lying at that moment, but decided that it was probably pointless. “Yeah, that’s me,” he said, approaching the officer.

“Captain Harry MacLaren, USS Ventus.”

“Oh,” Mike said with a wince. The Ventus had caught up to them. Lovely. “Look, not that this helps, but I’m sorry about…all of that. We weren’t trying to cause any permanent damage and…”

“Captain, please. I just came here to say thank you.”

“What now?”

“It took us a while to piece together what exactly happened, but from what we can tell, if you hadn’t come along when you did, that creature might have quite literally marched us all to death. You saved my crew, and I owe you a debt of gratitude.”

“So you’re not prosecuting us?”

“No. There will be no repercussions from your actions.”

“THANK YOU!” Mike said, grabbing MacLaren’s shoulders. “I was so worried! I’ve been a mess for days! I couldn’t sleep! I have this date tonight, and I was going to be looking over my shoulder the whole time!”

“Um…you’re welcome. Now about the being.”

“It’s gone.”

“What do you mean gone?”

“It left our ship.”

“How did you manage that?” MacLaren asked.

“It was in my sister, so we tied her up and didn’t let her march. The thing eventually got bored and left.”

“You didn’t comm anyone for help? The Daystrom Institute could have learned a lot from this being.”

“Honestly, I didn’t think of it. That thing had my sister, and we did what we had to to get rid of it.”

“In your shoes, I probably would have done the same,” MacLaren said, extending his hand to Mike. “Go have fun on your date, Captain. And again, thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Captain,” Mike replied, shaking MacLaren’s hand. “But I hope we never have to do it again.”

“That makes two of us.”

MacLaren walked off down the concourse. Mike watched him go for a moment, feeling the last bit of weight lifting from him. Now he had his date with Eerdani to look forward to…and to hope that he didn’t make a fool of himself in front of her.

Okay. Maybe there was a little bit of weight left.


BEEE-BOOOOOOO

What was that? It took the old man a couple of seconds to realize it was his own door chime. He hadn’t heard it in so long. No one visited him. No one had a reason to. This was clearly a mistake.

BEEE-BOOOOOOO

Mistaken as they were, whoever was at the door didn’t seem to be going away.

BEEE-BOOOOOOO

The old man put aside his work, crossed the room that served as his living area/ kitchen/workshop, and opened his door revealing a human woman 40 or more years his junior. From the duffel bag on her shoulder, the old man guessed she was visiting Antares and planning to stay with friends.

“You’ve got the wrong address.”

“I don’t think so, Doctor Banarek,” the woman replied. “You’re a hard man to find. May I come in?”

“Why in the Great Bird’s nest would I let you do that?”

“I’m Doctor Janet Corbair.” She looked at him expectantly.

“Is that name supposed to mean something to me?”

“I was arrested some time ago. I was just released from a rehabilitation colony a few months ago.”

“So what? Just because we both ran afoul of the Federation, we’re supposed to be best buddies now?”

“We both know that you did a bit more than that, Doctor Banarek,” Corbair said.

“Can we skip ahead to the part where you tell me what you want?”

“I want to offer you a trade,” Corbair replied. She opened up her duffel bag and pulled out a containment jar holding a blazing white energy source.

“Are we marching now?” a voice that seemed to emanate from the jar said.

“Get in here with that,” Dr. Banarek snapped, yanking Corbair into his apartment. “Are you crazy?”

“It got me in the door.”

“Is that really an energy-based lifeform?”

“Yes, it is. And it’s all yours.”

“In exchange for what?”

Corbair pulled her non-working tricorder out of the duffel bag. “For fixing this.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“When I turn it on, it tries to contact Starfleet for a hardware activation code. I’d rather it didn’t do that.”

“You managed to capture an energy-based lifeform, and all you want in return is a tricorder? Can’t you just by a Scantron or a Sense-O-Matic?”

“They don’t have the scanning capabilities that I require.”

“Yeah. Starfleet always keeps the best tech for themselves…or so they think,” Dr. Banarek said. He stepped back to his workbench and pulled a tricorder out of a drawer. “That’s why I keep a couple of these on hand. Give me yours and the lifeform, and you can have it.”

“You have a deal,” Janet said, handing the containment unit over to Banarek.

“Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of it.”

“I got what I came for. Quite frankly I don’t care what you do to that thing,” Corbair said, turning toward the door. “It was a pleasure, Doctor.”

“Likewise.”

Corbair stopped in the doorway. “It likes watching vids of people marching.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Banarek replied as his visitor stepped out into the night.


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