Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: TOSsed
“Looking Out for the Little Guy”
by Alan Decker
“And we have…geosynch orbit over the colony,” Ronnie Harper announced as she made her last adjustment to the SS Clydesdale’s course.
Seated next to her at the Clydesdale’s navigation panel, Mike Harper activated the ship’s comm system. “This is the SS Clydesdale to Lehrer Colony. Clydesdale to Lehrer. Come in.”
Mike used to hate this part. The comming someone new and waiting for an answer. He had this…it wasn’t really a fear…more of a concern, that the person on the other end of the line would be annoyed that he’d commed. It stemmed from an innate dislike of making people angry that Mike had had ever since he was a small child. Captaining his own cargo ship had forced him to get over his trepidation, though. Getting new cargo jobs required a certain amount of salesmanship, and he couldn’t do that if he was nervous to talk to people.
In the instance of the Lehrer Colony, though, the situation was even better. He wasn’t there to sell his services. Instead he was bringing them needed supplies. Who could be upset about that?
The person on the other end of the line could start screaming at him at this point, and Mike probably wouldn’t have cared too much. The last few months had been some of the best he’d had since taking ownership of the Clydesdale from Gravit & Yurtz and going out on his own. While Starfleet had never officially acknowledged the assistance that he and his crew had given the USS Ventus, ever since that incident, more Starfleet work had been coming his way. He still did his share of work for Tellarite firms (mostly Gravit & Yurtz), but he was just as likely to have a comm from Commodore Enwright of Starbase 6 asking about their availability for a job. Actually, Starbase 6 was rapidly becoming their new home base.
This was the Clydesdale’s first trip out to Lehrer, a colony that had only been established about six months earlier. It wasn’t exactly out at the edges of the frontier, but it was enough off of the regular routes that Starfleet didn’t want to divert an entire starship out that way. That meant that it was time to bring in an independent contractor, and, based on the last few months, their efforts on behalf of the USS Ventus (which was really an overstatement; Mike was mostly concerned with saving his crew and himself) had moved them to the top of the list.
So here they were making a well-paid run to bunch of isolated and grateful colonists. This was the type of job Mike was hoping for when he went to work for Gravit & Yurtz in the first place, even before he bought the Clydesdale from them.
“Clydesdale, this is Administrator Wyatt,” a somewhat gravelly female voice replied. “You have our supplies?”
“Yes, we do, Administrator. I’m Captain Harper, and we’d be happy to beam down the…”
“SHHHHHH!” Wyatt suddenly hissed. “Someone might hear you!”
Mike put the comm on mute and looked over at Dr. Janet Corbair, who was sitting at the Clydesdale’s sensor console. “Was there something dangerous in that cargo that I should have known about?”
“Not that I could tell,” Corbair said. Actually, she was certain of it. During the trip, she’d thoroughly scanned the cargo with the tricorder she’d traded for on Antares just to make sure that there wasn’t anything in it that would be of interest to her. “It was all pretty standard stuff. Building materials, food processor slurry tanks, and such.”
“Are you still there?” Administrator Wyatt demanded.
“Yes, ma’am,” Mike said, reopening the channel. “Did you want to talk about what you want us to do with…”
“Not like this!” Wyatt said. “Beam down, and we’ll discuss it. I’m sending coordinates now. Be here in five minutes. Wyatt out.” The channel was abruptly cut off.
Mike considered the situation for a moment. “I…don’t think I want to go down there,” he said finally.
“It does sound a little weird,” Ronnie said.
“We would have gone in with a security team,” Ronnie said.
“Yeah, but you’re not in Starfleet anymore,” Mike said. “And I think we’re down to one working laser pistol…if we even still have that.”
“You don’t,” Dr. Corbair said. “I needed the power pack.”
“Great,” Mike said. “But that settles it. We’ll just beam the cargo into the center of the colony and get out of here.”
“They probably won’t like that,” Ronnie said. “And if the administrator complains to Commodore Enwright…”
“…there goes our steady flow of jobs,” Mike said. “Fine. I’ll go. But I’m not going alone.” He activated the intercom. “Smash, meet me in the transporter room with Wodak. You’re beaming down with me.”
“Uh…sure, bossman,” the voice of the Clydesdale’s Rigellan cargo supervisor replied. “Anything you need me to bring?”
“Just a scowl. And try not to laugh this time.”
Smash chuckled on the other end of the comm line. “Sure thing.”
“Oh yeah. He’s a real tough guy,” Dr. Corbair said after Mike closed the channel. “The colonists will be quaking in their boots.”
“He’s almost eight feet tall!” Mike protested. “He’s intimidating!”
“Until he opens his mouth,” Corbair said.
“Or smiles,” Ronnie added.
“Maybe I could get him a mask,” Mike said. “That could work.”
“You’re going to be late to meet with the crazy lady,” Corbair said.
“Fine. Let’s get this over with,” Mike said, getting up from his chair and heading toward the turbolift. “I’ll be back soon.”
“You hope,” Corbair said.
Smash and Wodak were waiting in the Clydesdale’s small transporter room on Deck Four when Mike arrived. “Hey, Mike,” Smash said with a casual wave. “Should I have brought a coat for this?”
“You’ll be fine.”
“Did you check the weather down there?”
“Okay,” Smash said, strolling up onto the transporter padd as Wodak, one of the Clydesdale’s two deckhands, took up position behind the transporter console.
“Did you get the coordinates?” Mike asked the Antaran.
“Right here,” Wodak replied checking the console. “And it looks like a pretty day down there.”
“Awesome,” Smash said.
“Keep an eye on us,” Mike said, grabbing two wrist communicators out of the transporter room’s equipment bin. He tossed one to Smash, who, unable to fit it around his large wrist, just shoved it in his pocket. “Do not leave this room,” Mike added, strapping on his communicator. “If we call for help, I want you to be beaming us back on board before I finish the ‘p.’”
“You’re going to comm for beam out when you’re peeing?” Wodak asked, confused.
“No. ‘P.’ The letter ‘P.’ Like at the end of ‘help.’”
“I still don’t get it.”
“Yeah. I don’t think that joke worked, bossman,” Smash said.
“It wasn’t a joke!” Mike snapped, jogging onto the padd next to Smash. “Just stay here!” he said to Wodak.
“Will do,” Wodak said, activating the transporter and sending Mike and Smash to the surface of the colony. That done, he activated the comm panel on his console. “Hey, Paf,” he said. “Bring my cards to the transporter room, would you? And you might as well bring along your credits, so I can see about taking them off your hands. At the other end of the commline, Pafal-Sris, the Clydesdale’s other deckhand, just groaned.
After days and weeks spent existing in the artificial environments of the Clydesdale, Starbase 6, and the like, Mike relished the feeling of an actual natural breeze brushing against him as the transporter sequence finished. He and Smash had materialized behind a blocky grey metal pre-fab structure at the edge of the small cluster of buildings that made up the Lehrer Colony. The colony itself was situated in a valley along the edge of a large stream (or maybe it was better classified as a very small river). Around them, wooded hills rose up against the planet’s bright blue sky. The trees were an unbroken forest except for a 5 meter wide swath that had been cleared from the colony buildings up to the crest of one of the hills, where the colony’s communications array had been erected.
All in all, it was pretty idyllic and wonderfully Earth-like. No wonder the place was chosen for a colony. Although, Mike had to admit that it was kind of a shame. So far, no civilization had arisen there to screw the place up, but now the Federation was swooping in to defile it. Before Mike could get too much farther visualizing the planet all built up with skyscrapers, hovercars, and the like, a woman whom he assumed was Administrator Wyatt rounded the building, glancing behind herself nervously.
“Administrator,” Mike began, taking a step toward her, “it’s a pleasure to…”
“SHHHHHHHHHHH!” Wyatt hissed. She quickly turned on Smash. “Who’s this?”
“He’s my…security,” Mike said. Smash tried to look menacing, but his glare quickly began shifting toward a grin. Fortunately, Wyatt had already lost interest in him and refocused on Mike.
“It’s just the two of you? Have you seen anyone else? Did you talk to anyone?” Wyatt demanded in a quick barrage of questions.
“Um…yes, no, no,” Mike said.
“Is there a problem?” Mike asked.
Wyatt narrowed her eyes at him. “What tipped you off?” she asked.
“Pretty much everything you’ve said and done since we hit orbit.”
“Just what are you accusing me of?” Wyatt demanded.
“Keep your voice down!”
“Fine. But can I please deliver your supplies and get the hell away from this planet?” Mike said.
“You really don’t understand, do you?”
“I really don’t.”
“We kind of specialize in being clueless,” Smash said amiably.
“Thanks for that,” Mike said.
“You’re not in on it. No. You couldn’t be. That wouldn’t even make sense. You just got here and are bringing stuff to us,” Wyatt said, more to herself than Mike and Smash.
“We’re not in on anything,” Mike said. “I promise. Now if you’ll tell us where to beam down your supplies, we’ll get right to it and leave you to figuring out who is in on whatever it is that’s bugging you so much.”
“Here. Right here,” Wyatt said.
“Here? As in outdoors?”
“No one will see it here until I have a chance to deal with it all.”
“Okay. Whatever you’d like. I didn’t bring a padd down with me. I’ll just need to get it from the ship, so you can sign it confirming delivery. Or we could connect to the ship from a terminal here, if you have one.”
“My office. You’re not beaming anywhere until my supplies are here.”
Mike had to make a tough call. Was this a demand made by an angry customer or the prelude to a kidnapping by a nutjob? Since Wyatt seemed focused on the supplies, Mike decided to risk the former, but he was going to be ready to signal the Clydesdale for help at a moment’s notice.
“Smash, have Wodak and Paf start beaming things down here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“But if I’m not back in fifteen minutes, panic and call for beam out. You got me?”
“Fifteen minutes til panic. Gotcha.”
“All right, Administrator, where’s your office?” Mike said.
“Follow me,” Wyatt said, dropping to the grass and starting to crawl away.
“Like that? Really?”
“On your belly!”
Mike let out a long sigh as he got down and crawled after Wyatt.
Fortunately for Mike’s knees and his dignity, Wyatt’s office was actually inside the building they had materialized behind. After a quick crawl around to the other side to get to the door, which Wyatt activated by reaching up and waving her arm around frantically until the sensor acknowledged her and opened the door, she led Mike down a short corridor into a room that looked more like a storage area than the office of a colony administrator. Wyatt squeezed herself between two stacks of cargo crates, climbed over the lone desk in the room, and plopped down into to her chair waiting on the other side. Not sure what else to do, Mike wedged himself past the crates and attempted to stand straight in front of Wyatt’s desk. He couldn’t quite manage it and instead ended up turning his head awkwardly to his left to look at the colony administrator.
“Are you sure you needed supplies?” Mike asked.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Wyatt snapped.
“Nothing…just…there seems to be plenty here if you have to use your office for extra storage.”
“This is what’s left. I have it in here for safe keeping,” Wyatt replied.
“Safe? From what?”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know. We’ve only been here for about six months, and at first everything was fine. We had the survey scans that Starfleet took from orbit, and this looked like a decent spot to use as a starting point. It’s a temperate zone, scenic, and fairly protected from weather by the surrounding hills. This site was only going to be temporary, though. We have two shuttles that we use to do more detailed explorations of the planet in order to find a location where we could plant crops, graze livestock, and such in order to become a completely self-sufficient colony.
“Less than two months after we arrived, things started disappearing. One of the shuttles broke down, and we couldn’t find the replacement parts that we knew we had. The next month’s supply run brought replacements for the replacements, but some of them vanished before we could even get them into the shuttle. We’ve lost farming tools, computer terminals, conduits, isolinear chips, you name it.”
“So you think there’s a thief in your colony.”
“There has to be!” Wyatt shouted suddenly, slamming her hand down on the table. “These things can’t just walk off on their own, and there’s nobody else on this planet but the thirty of us. Everyone says they’re innocent and my searches haven’t turned up anything, but I don’t have any other explanations.”
“THERE ARE NO RACCOONS ON THIS PLANET!”
“Okay. Well, hopefully what we’re bringing you will stick around. Now if you’d just let me connect to my ship, we can finish up the delivery confirmation, so we can let you get back to…stuff.”
“Here,” Wyatt growled, pushing her terminal over to Mike, who quickly contacted the Clydesdale’s computer and brought up the needed screens. The sooner he could get this done and help Smash finish the unloading process, the sooner they could get away from Wyatt and her ravings. Frankly, he didn’t care about her mystery thief. His job was to deliver cargo. What happened to it after that wasn’t his problem. His life was simpler that way.
Mike turned the terminal back to Wyatt, so that she could confirm delivery, which she did, pounding on her keyboard so hard that Mike was certain it would crack. That done, she glared back up at him. “You’re going to have to move,” she said.
“Working on it,” Mike replied, forcing his way back down the gap in the cargo containers. Wyatt climbed over her desk to follow, catching up with him just as he was at the end of the corridor outside of her office and about to head outdoors.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
“Heading back to…” He suddenly realized what she meant. “Seriously? I have to crawl again?”
“All right. All right,” Mike grumbled, getting back on his belly as Wyatt activated the doors and dropped down in front of him. They crawled around to the back of the building, where Mike angrily got to his feet and brushed himself off. Smash had done a good job. Cargo containers were stacked neatly in rows in the grass.
There was only one thing missing:
Dr. Corbair tensed as she heard the doors of her lab open behind her. She really should have locked them, but that brought up two minor problems. First, the lab doors didn’t have a lock. She could certainly rig something up, but then there was the second problem. Locked doors would lead to questions about her activities, and she had no desire to do anything to raise the suspicions of the Clydesdale’s crew. This was a probationary assignment, and Mike Harper hadn’t been thrilled to take her on in the first place. She needed to stay on his good side for a while longer, and then she could get off of this ugly metal box.
Space travel had never been her thing anyway. Spaceships were fine to get her where she needed to go, but Corbair had never wanted to spend her life on one. At least the Clydesdale made frequent stops at planets (real civilized planets, not backwater colonies like where they were currently), so that she could get out, breathe some real air, and eat somewhere other than the Clydesdale’s mess hall.
She could also be anonymous. Unlike on the Clydesdale, where she constantly had others around…and walking into her lab uninvited.
“I’m bored,” Ronnie Harper said, trudging in and plopping herself down in one of the room’s two chairs.
Corbair was occupying the other one and refused to look up from her desk terminal. “Read a book,” she muttered.
“Nah. I don’t feel like it. What are you doing?”
“Is it good?”
“Do you like analyzing scans?”
“There’s your answer.”
“Come on. Let’s do something.”
“I’m busy. And you’re supposed to be flying the ship.”
“We’re in orbit. There’s nothing for me to do,” Ronnie said. “I’m booooooooooored.”
“What if another ship shows up to attack us, and you’re not up there?”
“So? We barely have any weapons. I’d be just as dead down here, and this way I won’t see it coming. Now come on.”
“I’m trying to work,” Corbair said.
“Nothing you’d care about.”
“Fine. What do you want to do?” Corbair asked with a sigh.
“I don’t know. But I’m bored. What do you want to do?”
“It’s like you’re five years old.”
“There’s nothing childish about wanting to have fun,” Ronnie said. “Let’s play a game.”
“I’m not going to the rec deck. I don’t want to get all sweaty.”
“That’s fine. We can do something else.”
“A game, huh?” Corbair said, thoughtfully. “Okay. But I pick. And we’re not playing here. I’ll meet you in the mess hall in a few minutes.”
“Yay!” Ronnie exclaimed, leaping up from her chair. “I’ll make us some coffee! Or do you want something stronger and more…alcoholic?”
“Coffee’s fine,” Corbair said, forcing a smile.
“Coming up!” Ronnie said then raced from the lab.
“I don’t think there’s enough alcohol in this sector to deal with her,” Corbair muttered.
“Where’s the other one?” Administrator Wyatt demanded. “Does this mean you’re done?”
“I’m sure it does,” Mike replied, not feeling that sure at all. Smash wouldn’t beam up to the ship without telling him. Not normally anyway. But before Mike got worried, he’d do the obvious.
“Mike to Smash,” he said, activating his wrist communicator.
There was no response, but if Smash had gone back to the ship, he might have put the wrist-comm back in the bin.
“Mike to Wodak.”
“What?” Wodak replied with a grunt.
“Is Smash up there?”
“Why would he be up here? We’re still unloading.”
“Then where is he?”
“How would I know?” Wodak said.
“You were supposed to be watching our signals!”
“I was…until I had to help Paf start loading the pallets onto the cargo transporter. I can’t do both, now can I?”
Damn Wodak and his logic.
“Okay. Would you be so kind as to go over to the transporter and LOOK FOR SMASH?!?” Mike bellowed.
“Hang on,” Wodak said. Mike heard the clanging thunk of footsteps stomping across the Clydesdale’s deck plating. “He’s…huh.”
“Huh? What do you mean ‘huh’?”
“I’m not getting a reading. Do you want us to go ahead and beam down the last pallet?”
“Yeah. I’ll try and find Smash. He couldn’t have gone too far. Mike out.”
“That big moron is wandering around?” Administrator Wyatt snapped. “I didn’t want anyone to know you were here!”
“He knew that,” Mike said. “I’m sure he stayed out of sight. Maybe he just had to go.”
“Go? Go where?”
“So he needed to take a piss?”
“Possibly. He might just be in the woods doing his business.”
“He’d better be,” Wyatt said. “Now I need to get back before anyone else in the colony notices I’m gone. Finish unloading and get the hell off of my planet!”
“Will do. It’s been a pleasure, Administrator. Good luck finding your thief.”
“Bite me,” Wyatt said before storming off around the corner of the building.
Mike lingered for a few moments waiting for final pallet to be beamed down and for Smash to return. The first event occurred almost immediately. The second… not so much.
Finally tired of waiting, Mike decided to head into the woods that extended up the hill surrounding the colony. Surely Smash was in there. He’d probably seen a squirrel or something and lost track of time.
The forest was dense enough that about fifty feet in, Mike almost couldn’t make out the colony anymore. He also couldn’t see any sign of Smash. He continued to ascend, fairly certain that he wasn’t going to have any luck. He did have to admit, though, that the woods were pretty. If he had to search for a crewmember, he couldn’t ask for better weather.
Before long, he’d almost forgotten why he was there in the first place. Instead, he was enjoying the smell of the trees, the feel of the wind against his skin, the jab of a needle into his neck…
Judging by the confused frown on Ronnie’s face, Dr. Corbair had the sense that the Clydesdale’s pilot wasn’t thrilled with her choice of games. Still, as they sat across from each other in the mess hall, cards in hand, Ronnie was doing her best to be…um…game.
“Do you have any sevens?” she asked.
“Here you go,” Corbair replied, handing over a card. “Do you have any threes?”
Corbair picked up a card. It didn’t match anything in her hand. “Everything okay over there?” she asked as Ronnie stared at her cards blankly.
“Yeah. Do you have any fives?”
“You don’t sound all that enthusiastic about this,” Corbair said, handing over a five.
“No no. It’s…fine.”
“I thought you’d enjoy this game.”
“I do. Or I did. When I was eight. Not that I could ever get people to play with me.”
“You never get too old for a classic game,” Corbair said. “Do you have any twos?”
Ronnie handed over a card. “I guess you’re right. And the whole point is to spend time together anyway, so it doesn’t really matter what we’re playing. Do you have any nines?”
Corbair handed over a card, which allowed Ronnie to put down her final pair.
“That was fast,” Corbair remarked. “Another round, or should we move on to something else?”
“What did you have in mind?”
“With just the two of us?”
“Sure. I’ll be the dealer.”
“Um…okay. But we’re not playing for real credits, are we?”
“Why would we do that?”
Mike jolted awake and quickly discovered that a little jolt was about all of the movement he could manage, seeing as how he had been bound in a sitting position to the base of a tree. He couldn’t feel his wristcomm, and for some reason his boots were gone.
Mike whipped his head to the left toward the source of the voice only to find Smash similarly bound to a tree a couple of meters away from him. “What the hell? What happened? Who did this?” Mike demanded, shaking off the last of whatever substance had knocked him out.
“You didn’t see them?” Smash asked.
“No. Was it the colonists? Orions? No. They don’t use darts. Who…”
“You’ve got to see these guys,” Smash said. “They’re all blue and…”
“No. They’re tiny. Like three apples high.”
“Three apples? What kind of description is that?” Mike said. “Do they even have apples on your home planet? Doesn’t matter. Where are they?”
“I don’t know. Once I got done with the cargo offload, I had to go into the woods to…you know. I went kind of far in to get some privacy, and when I finished up I saw these little blue guys in itty-bitty loincloths. I tried saying hi, but I don’t think they understood me. Next thing I know, one of them pulls out a tiny blowgun and shoots a dart into my forehead. I woke up here. I’m not sure how long I was out, but you were tied to that tree when I came to, so I decided to wait for you. You’re the captain after all.”
“Thanks a bunch. We’ve got to get out of these…ropes? Vines?”
“I think they’re vines.”
Mike trailed off as a group of seven of the “little blue guys” Smash had described stalked into view. As Smash had indicated, all seven were dressed in loincloths with nothing else on their person other than a small blowgun or a tiny spear. Only the leader, an elderly being with a long white beard, had any other adornment. He wore a small patch of cloth on his head stained red with either berry juice or the blood of some unfortunate creature. Mike really hoped it was juice.
Seeing their captives awake, the group of beings chattered amongst themselves for a few moments before the elder stepped forward and announced, “Yenk yenk yenky yenk yenk yenking yenk!”
Or something like that.
“I don’t have a universal translator. I can’t understand a thing you’re saying,” Mike replied. “Give me my wristcomm back, and we’ll talk.”
“I don’t think he can understand you either,” Smash said.
“I know that!”
“I’m just saying…”
“YENK! Yenky yenk yenk YENK!” the elder barked.
“He sounds kind of mad,” Smash said.
“But on the bright side, they haven’t killed us.”
The elder pointed his spear at Mike. “Yenk yenky yenk yenk yenk!” he growled then shouted, “YENK!” throwing his arms wide open.
“I’m feeling vaguely threatened here,” Mike said.
The elder continued, pointing his spear down the hill toward the colony, “Yenk yenk yenky yenk yenk yenkin yenk yenk.” Then he again threw his arms wide and screamed, “YENK! YENK YENK YENK!” before stomping up to Mike with a final, “Yenk!”
“Uh huh,” Mike said.
“Yenk,” the elder snapped, then stormed off into the forest followed closely by his entourage.
“That threatening feeling just got a bit less vague,” Mike said.
“He didn’t like you at all.”
“I don’t think he likes any of us, including the colonists.”
“So…are they the ones stealing from the colony?” Smash asked.
“Maybe. Wyatt certainly doesn’t seem to know that they’re out here. But you saw them. What use would they possibly have for all of that stuff?”
“They stole our shoes.”
Mike struggled with the vines binding his wrists behind him. For little guys, the tiny buggers sure seemed to know how to tie knots. “Have you had any luck with these?” Mike grunted.
“Oh yeah. I snapped them right after I woke up. I didn’t want them to know that, though,” Smash replied.
“You could have told me!”
“They might have been listening.”
“Would you untie me!?!”
“Right. Sure thing,” Smash said. He ripped the vines binding his legs together off as though they were nothing, got up, and made quick work of Mike’s vines.
“For future reference, if we ever get captured by anyone ever again and you can get free, grab me and run for it. I won’t mind. I promise,” Mike said.
“I’m sorry I snapped at you.”
“It’s okay. I was pretty stressed out about all this, too.”
“You hide it well. Let’s get out of…dammit.”
“They still have our wristcomms.”
“The colony has a transmitter. We can call the ship from there.”
“Yeah, but those things weren’t cheap. And I really don’t want to walk all the way back in my socks. If we can figure out where our stuff is without getting spotted…”
“What?” Smash asked as Mike fell silent and stared off into the distance.
“What the hell is that?”
Smash was just able to make out a glint of metal about his eye level through the foliage. Considering he was about eight feet tall, eye-level put the glinting object pretty high up there. It also wasn’t alone. He quickly realized that he was seeing a lot of metal hidden by branches and leaves.
Mike and Smash approached the metal as quietly as they could, tip-toeing in socked feet around sticks and leaves until they made it to the metal object.
But it wasn’t a single object. It was several. Mike could make out bits of conduit, chips, tools, and various other tidbits and doodads all stuck together with what appeared to be sap until it formed a massive roughly-spherical shape about four meters in diameter. And just beyond it was the edge of the forest. Well, not the real edge. It was the strip of hillside that had been cleared to form the five-meter wide path leading up to the colony’s communications array.
“Hey!” Smash said. “My boots! Awesome.” He yanked his footwear off of the sphere, dragging long tendrils of gooey sap along with them.
“Do you think this is some kind of shrine?” Mike asked, walking around the junk-ball until he found his own boots and, more importantly, the two wristcomms.
“Looks like a boulder to me,” Smash said.
“Sure. The tiny blue people stole all of this stuff to make a big metal rock. Right.”
“That’s what it looks like.”
“It’s a boulder.”
“But you said…”
“Look where it is. If they push it out into the clearing, it’s going to roll right down the hill and…” He looked down the path into the colony below. Depending on the trajectory, the boulder would probably either hit the colony’s storage building or one of the small houses.
“SHIT!” Mike shouted, diving sideways as a tiny dart whizzed past him. Dozens more cries of “Yenk!” sounded through the woods as the small native who spotted them alerted his comrades.
“Go!” Mike said, dashing into the clearing and charging up the hill toward the crest and the communications array, which was only about twenty meters away
“But we’re in the open!” Smash protested.
“They have tiny lungs. How far can the possibly shoot?” Mike cried, struggling to get his sap-covered wristcomm to activate. “Mike to Clydesdale! CLYDESDALE!”
“Did they have to route the comm through the entire ship?” Dr. Corbair said, rolling her eyes as Mike’s panicked voice screamed out of the comm panel on the wall of the mess hall.
“Mike wanted to make sure we could hear him when he was off of the ship no matter where we were on board,” Ronnie replied, considering the nine and seven cards on the table in front of her.
“He worries too much.”
“CLYDESDALE, COME IN!”
“Great Bird! Is somebody going to answer that?” Corbair shouted.
“Paf and Wodak can’t hear you, you know.”
“I know,” Corbair groused. “Do you want a card or not?”
Ronnie thought for a moment. “Yeah. Hit me.”
Corbair dealt the next card, a four.
“Yes!” Ronnie said.
“PLEASE, CLYDESDALE! RONNIE!” Mike shouted.
“Okay. Okay,” Ronnie said, getting up and heading to the comm panel as Dr. Corbair dealt out the rest of her cards as the blackjack dealer. Not surprisingly, she busted.
“You won again,” Corbair said.
“I’m on a roll,” Ronnie said then activated the comm. “I’m here, Mike. What’s the problem?”
“Blue things! Boulder! HELP!”
Ronnie exchanged a confused look with Dr. Corbair. “Um…I don’t know what any of that means.”
Mike looked up to the sky exasperated while Smash continued to try to break into the locked communications array building. Any second now, he expected to be set upon by a horde of little loincloth-clad blue demons. Actually, they really should have been overwhelmed already.
“Mike?” Ronnie’s voice asked.
“Hang on,” Mike said. He cautiously peered around the building. The little blue guys weren’t coming after them. No. Instead they were massing by the boulder, which meant…
“Get to the bridge! Comm the colony! Tell Wyatt to evacuate!” Mike said.
“The little blue guys made a big rock that’s about to come crashing down there!”
“What blue guys? What rock?”
Smash took the wristcomm from Mike. “Hey, Ronnie. Look, we found these little blue people who live on this planet, and they really don’t like the colonists, so they stole a bunch of stuff, glued it together into a giant boulder, and now they’re about to roll it down a hill and crush a building or two.”
“Oh. Mike could have just said that.”
“Don’t be too hard on him. We’ve had a rough day.”
“FOCUS!” Mike snapped, snatching the wristcomm back. “We’ve got to stop that boulder!”
“Sure,” Dr. Corbair’s voice said. “We’ll just destroy it from orbit. I’m sure the targeting scanners on this bucket are able to lock in on a small spot on a planet from all the way up here without accidentally vaporizing you and everyone else around you.”
“Try a different plan!” Mike said.
“Uh oh,” Smash said, peering around the building. “They’re rolling it out.”
“We’re going to the bridge now,” Ronnie said. “We’ll comm you back as soon as we’re there.”
“Hurry!” Mike said.
“Sorry we can’t finish our game,” Ronnie said, heading toward the door of the mess hall. “Maybe later after we save my brother?”
“Maybe,” Corbair replied. “You go ahead. I’ll be right behind you.”
Once Ronnie was gone, Corbair ducked into the small galley and pulled her tricorder out from behind a couple of storage bins on the counter. She had a lot of scans to go through, but, if she was right, there could be something very useful in that data.
Mike joined Smash at the corner of the building, where they could see the natives struggling to move the boulder into position. What seemed like hundreds of them held onto vine ropes preventing the boulder from rolling away before they were ready.
“This isn’t our fault,” Mike said. “They were going to do this anyway, right?”
“We might have made them do it sooner,” Smash said.
“We could leave. Wyatt thinks we’re gone. No one would ever know.”
“We can’t do that, though.”
“No…we can’t. Dammit,” Mike said. “They might kill somebody with that thing.” He shook his wristcomm. “Come on! Get to the bridge!”
“I’m big and scary, right, bossman?” Smash said.
“Sure to people who don’t know you.”
“I’ve got an idea.”
“No!” Mike shouted, but Smash was already lumbering down the hill. The Rigellan let out a roar that Mike had to admit was pretty damn intimidating. As Smash had hoped, the little blue guys were petrified. They scurried back into the forest…
…letting go of the vines holding the boulder in place as they fled.
Seeing the boulder starting to roll, Smash leapt, grabbing onto a couple of outjutting bits of sap-glued components and digging his heels into the hill to try to stop the massive sphere.
He was quickly carried up the boulder as it rolled. At the top, he sprung to his feet and frantically began to run backwards, barely keeping himself on top of the orb as it sped toward the colony.
“Bad idea, bossman!” Smash shouted. “VERY BAD!”
Not that Mike could hear him. He was too busy dashing down the hill and screaming into his wrist comm. “Clydesdale! Somebody answer!”
“We’re here,” Ronnie’s voice said finally. “Now what are we supposed to do? Oh, hey. Janet says there’s a big metal thing heading toward the colony…and a life sign.”
“Tractor beam!” Mike screamed.
“We cannot grab a moving object like that from orbit,” Dr. Corbair’s voice said, breaking into the conversation. “Our tractor beam is designed to move cargo IN SPACE!”
“Will it slow the thing down?”
“THEN DO IT!” Mike shouted as Smash and the boulder got farther and farther away.
An instant later, a blue beam lanced down from the sky and skittered across the surface of the boulder. At first, nothing seemed to be happening, but then Mike realized that he was actually gaining on the huge metal ball. It continued to slow, then suddenly the beam jerked to the right, nudging the boulder sideways just enough for it to pass right between the colony’s storage building and one of the colonist’s homes. It soon rolled to a stop in the courtyard in the middle of the colony, at which point Smash was able to hop down unharmed.
“Oh yeah,” the Rigellan said, nodding his head. “The big man nails it!”
Mike arrived about minute later, completely winded, as the colonists emerged from their homes and gathered to stare at the newcomers and the boulder comprised of their stolen items.
Mike hadn’t even had time to catch his breath when Administrator Wyatt stormed out of the administration building wielding a phaser rifle.
“Hi…found…your stuff,” Mike gasped.
“What the hell did you do to it?” Wyatt demanded.
“It wasn’t…us!” Mike protested.
“It was the blue guys.”
“Andorians!” the colonists exclaimed.
“No. Other blue guys.”
“Either you two start explaining in a way that makes sense, or I’m arresting both of you under suspicion of theft!” Wyatt said, leveling her phaser rifle at Mike.
“You can’t…do that,” Mike said. “We…weren’t even here…until today!”
“So you claim. We’ll see if anyone in Starfleet can confirm…OW!” Wyatt suddenly swatted at the back of her neck. She had just enough time to yank out a tiny dart and look at it before she hit the ground unconscious revealing a tiny native standing about ten meters away…
…and a horde of several hundred more racing down the hill a few dozen meters behind him.
“BLUE GUYS!” Smash shouted.
“YENK!” the native shouted by way of a battle cry as he reloaded his blowgun.
“Get inside!” Mike ordered the colonists. The twenty-nine conscious and panicked colonists stampeded toward the nearby storage building with Smash and Mike following close behind.
Mike suddenly skidded to a halt. “Crap! Wyatt!”
“Got her, bossman,” Smash said. He spun around, his long legs covering the distance back to Wyatt in seconds, then scooped up the elderly administrator. A dart flew toward him, but instead embedded itself in the insensate woman’s chest.
“Sorry about that,” Smash said to Wyatt, not that she was listening at that particular moment, and raced back to Mike, who was holding the storage building door open for him. With Smash and Wyatt safely inside, Mike sealed the doors. Seconds later, the structure echoed with the pounding of hundreds of tiny fists and spears on its outer surface.
“They’re kind of riled up,” Smash said, looking out one of the windows. “And they’re really tearing up the place. You think maybe they’re mad that we messed up their big rock plan?”
“Could be,” Mike said, resisting the urge to start screaming.
“This is our home!” a man said, storming up to Mike. “You’ve got to do something!”
“Chandler. I’m the colony’s agricultural specialist.”
“Is that like a farmer?” Mike asked.
“Where did these things come from?” Chandler demanded.
“They were always here. This is their planet.”
“Impossible. Starfleet scanned for any civilization and any signs of fauna larger than…oh.”
“Oh? You’ve cast me in an amateur production of The Alamo, and all you have to say is ‘Oh’!”
“We didn’t know they were here. We’ll feel bad about it later. Now DO SOMETHING!”
“Just what do you expect me to do?” Mike snapped.
“How should I know? You’re the one with the plan!”
“Plan? Why in the hell would I have a plan?”
“You’re the captain.”
“OF A CARGO SHIP! This is kind of out my job description!”
“I don’t know, bossman. You rescued all of these people,” Smash said.
“I told them to go inside. I bet they would have thought of that anyway,” Mike replied.
“You had me grab the administrator. They didn’t do that.”
“Is this supposed to be a pep talk?”
“Nope. Just saying.”
“Okay. Well…we’ve got our wristcomms back. They have a link to the ship’s universal translator. Maybe we can talk to them. Smash, can you open that window without getting pelted with darts?”
“Everybody else, STAY BACK!”
“Let the captain do his job,” Chandler said, rushing to the rear of the building with the other colonists.
“My job is to move crap from planet to planet. Not this,” Mike muttered as Smash unlocked the window and slid it open. “Huh,” Mike said.
“What?” Smash asked.
“I thought that would involve…smashing.”
“Why? It opens just fine.”
“Never mind.” He cleared his throat. “Hello, gentle beings!” he shouted. “My name is Mike Harper, and I…come in peace!”
His announcement was met by a cacophony of “Yenks.” Eventually, they settled down and one lone voice took over.
“Yenk yenk yenky yenk. Yenk yenk ya yenk yenk.”
“Come on. Come on,” Mike said, waiting for something intelligible to come out of the wristcomm.
And the speaker outside had stopped.
“I think he’s waiting on you,” Smash said.
“Great,” Mike said. “Um…obviously we all got off on the wrong foot here. Can you tell me slowly and clearly what you’re so mad about?”
“YENK! Yenk yenk yenk yenk yenk YENK YENK!”
“Corbair to Mike,” Dr. Corbair’s voice said suddenly through the wristcomm.
“What? I’m kind of busy here!”
“Yeah, so I can see. The universal translator is up here throwing a fit. It has no idea what to do with that language. I think diplomacy is out.”
Outside the building, another cry of “YENK!” rose up, and the pounding on the building began anew.
“I don’t think it was ever in,” Mike said as a hail of darts flew in through the open window.
“Oh man!” Smash exclaimed, quickly slamming the window shut. It shattered on impact, letting in even more darts. “OH MAN!”
“Captain!” Chandler shouted, racing back toward him. “I think they’re breaking through over here!”
“New plan!” Mike screamed. “ABANDON COLONY!”
If he was a Starfleet captain, this would be the point where Mike would record some kind of thoughtful log entry about being more careful about colony placement in the future. Instead he just sat at the Clydesdale’s navigation console, staring blankly at the stars streaking by on the viewscreen as the ship headed away from what used to be the Lehrer Colony.
“You’re still up here?” Ronnie asked, walking out of the turbolift onto the bridge.
“Administrator Wyatt is looking for you.”
“Which is why I’m still up here.”
“She did seem…pissed.”
“Can’t imagine why. I only lost her colony for her,” Mike said.
“Hey! She’s lucky you were there,” Ronnie said, grabbing her brother’s hand. “Those little guys were probably preparing that attack for months. If you hadn’t been around to beam everyone up here, the whole colony could have been killed.”
“Thanks. Maybe Wyatt will figure that out eventually,” Mike said. “But next time, you’re beaming down to make the delivery.”
“Fine with me. All Janet wanted to do was play cards.”
Mike winced. “Bad move on her part. Did you wipe the deck with her?”
“That’ll teach her to ever play cards with you. I learned that lesson early on.”
“So when are you going to learn that hiding on the bridge doesn’t solve anything?” Ronnie asked.
“Never, because it’s not true. In this case, hiding solves everything. We’re rendezvousing with the USS Stockman in a couple of hours, Starfleet will take Wyatt and friends away, and then I’ll come out.”
“You want me to grab you some dinner in the meantime?”
“Just make sure Wyatt doesn’t poison it.”