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

“Reign of the Clydesdale”

by Alan Decker



Mike Harper was hovering over Dr. Janet Corbair’s left shoulder so obnoxiously that his face was almost closer to her monitor than her own.

“Are you sure they haven’t seen us?” he asked nervously. “They have to have seen us. We can see them, so…”

Corbair suddenly shoved Mike’s face back. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell them we’re here!” she snapped. “What the hell did you eat for lunch anyway? Smells like Paf after a workout.”

“The Orions…”

“SIT DOWN!” Corbair shouted, pointing across the bridge to the vacant navigation station where she wanted Mike to plant himself.

“Okay. Fine!” Mike said, forcing himself to return to his seat. “Now would you PLEASE tell me how soon the Orions are going to kill us?”

“They haven’t changed course,” Corbair said. “Amazingly we’re still outside of their sensor range. Oh wait. It’s not amazing, because it’s exactly what I said would happen!”

“I just wanted to be sure.”

“I was sure. I have absolutely no urge to experience Death by Orion Pirates. I read the reviews, and it sounds nasty.”

“Somebody reviews deaths?” Ronnie Harper asked from her seat at the ship’s helm. “Gross. Wait. How do you do that job more than once?”

“She was joking, Ronnie,” Mike said to his sister. He began checking the navigation console for a different route back to Federation space. Space being as vast as it was, he had plenty of options. Of course, his preference would have been not to be stuck out on the frontier in the first place. However, as a cargo ship captain, he had to go where the work was. Starfleet hired his ship, the SS Clydesdale, to transport supplies to a colony beyond the Federation’s usual patrol routes and, therefore, Mike’s comfort zone. Mike took the job, though, because he was honestly grateful to get it after the debacle on Lehrer Colony a couple of weeks earlier. After that mess, he assumed that his time working for Starfleet was over. Now it was clear that they hadn’t decided to cut ties with him. Instead, they were punishing him by sending his ship out into a distant area of space frequented by Orion Pirates.

That did explain why their destination, the Parandis Colony, had more orbital weapons platforms and ground-based anti-ship phaser arrays than some Federation core worlds. That kind of security made for a stress-free and smooth supply drop off.

But on their way back toward Federation space, the Clydesdale had detected Orion Raiders and had been forced to flee in the opposite direction to avoid being spotted, putting them even farther from home.

“Umm…” Dr. Corbair said.

“What ummm? What is ummm?!?” Mike demanded.

“Another Orion ship just entered sensor range. It and the first ship are starting to head this way.”

“I told you they’d see us!” Mike shouted.

“You don’t know that. It could just be a coincidence.”

“Either way, we’re running. Ronnie…”

“Going,” Ronnie said as Mike activated the comm panel on his console.

“Mike to Bork.”

“What now?” the voice of the Clydesdale’s Tellarite engineer snapped in response.

“We need any extra speed you can give us.”

“Do you think I just keep extra buckets of the stuff down here? The engines go as fast as they go. I can’t just flip a switch and make them go faster. The power output of a Lant-Kraz model warp core is limited by…”

“Just see what you can do!” Mike said, slapping the channel shut before Bork’s full lecture began. He checked his monitors looking for anything in range that could provide a bit of cover. A possibility caught his eye.

“Do we know anything about the nebula on heading 308 mark 7?”

“It’s a nebula,” Dr. Corbair said.

“Is it dangerous?”

“It’s a bit denser than most, but it doesn’t seem to be anything special.”

“That’s it?”

“We’re out past the frontier. No one has been in there to check it out. If you feel like exploring, go ahead.”

“I’m leaning more toward hiding,” Mike replied, punching in the new course “Ronnie, go! Fast as we can.”

Ronnie obliged, and the cargo vessel strained to increase velocity toward what Mike hoped would be a safe haven.

“Still no sign of pursuit, but they are faster than us,” Dr. Corbair said. “If they maintain their present course, we’re going to show up on their sensors before too long.”

“Hopefully it will be long enough,” Mike said.

“Bork to bridge!” the angry voice of their engineer barked over the comm speakers.

“Kind of busy running for our lives right now,” Mike replied.

“I’ve got system overloads all over the place. What the hell are you doing up there?”

“As I may have mentioned, we’re RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES!”

“You’re going to break something if you don’t slow down soon,” Bork groused.

“Just hold it together a little bit longer,” Mike said as the nebula loomed on the Clydesdale’s viewscreen.

Bork let out a grunt. “When we blow up, remember I warned you.” The Tellarite let out another huff and closed the channel.


On TV, the next minute or so would be wonderfully tense. There’d be cuts between shots of the ship heading toward the nebula, Mike watching the viewscreen with concern, Dr. Corbair watching the Orions’ sensor contacts on her monitor, and conduits rupturing around Bork in engineering as the music grows in intensity.

But, as this is a story, I’ll just skip ahead and let you know that they made it into the nebula safely…unless you really wanted to read a page and a half of “Dr. Corbair watched helplessly as the Orions gained on the Clydesdale” and such.

Didn’t think so.

Now that they’re deep inside the nebula, we rejoin the lack of action already in progress…

“We’re deep enough in that their sensors shouldn’t be able to penetrate,” Dr. Corbair said.

“And they weren’t heading this way?” Mike asked.

“Not last I saw.”

“Good. We’ll stay here for a little while, and then see if we can make a run back to Federation space. Hopefully they’ll be long…”

Mike’s words were interrupted by the sudden wailing of a warning klaxon.

“Fire alarm?” Ronnie asked. “I thought that only sounded in the galley.”

“That’s because your cooking is the only thing that usually sets it off,” Corbair said, checking the Clydesdale’s pathetic excuse for internal sensors for the source of the alarm.

“Bork to bridge!”

“What is it?” Mike shouted over the klaxon.

“I told you so!”

“Are we blowing up?” Mike asked, alarmed.

“No, but the… Hang on a second.” The comm speakers hissed with the sound of a fire extinguisher. A moment later, the alarm stopped. “Fire’s out,” Bork said. “But the intermix regulator is a steaming pile of slag.”

“That sounds…bad,” Mike said.

“Only if you don’t enjoy uncontrolled matter/anti-matter reactions that will obliterate this entire ship in less than a second.”

“I don’t think I’d enjoy that at all,” Ronnie said.

“What are our options?” Mike asked.

“Let’s see,” Bork replied. “We could find a replacement or limp along on our impulse engines until we all die of old age.”

“Ohhhhhh,” Mike said. “We don’t have a spare?”

“Unless we suddenly have a spare parts budget that you’ve never told me about, how in the name of the Great Bird would we have a spare?”

“Just seems like it’s important enough that we might want to keep an extra one around.”

“Give me the credits when we dock next time, and I’ll pick a couple up,” Bork said. “For now, though, we’re nearly dead in space. And considering the distance we’ve traveled from the Federation, we’re looking at a very long trip home…assuming, of course, that we aren’t set upon by the Orions first.”

“We’ll let you know what we come up with,” Mike said.

“You’d bett…”

Mike closed the channel and let out a long sigh as he leaned back in his chair.

“What are we coming up with?” Ronnie asked.

“I have no idea,” Mike replied.

“And once again I’m left to save us all,” Dr. Corbair said.

Mike jolted back upright. “Can you?”

“That depends,” Corbair said.

“On what?” Mike asked, rushing over to join her.

“On who they are,” she replied, pointing at the planet barely visible in the center of her monitor.


After five days of painfully slow progress deeper into the nebula at impulse speeds, the Clydesdale was finally closing in on a planetary system that had no business being there. Yet there it was, several gas giants and a single class M world orbiting a star in the depths of what should have been a roiling stellar nursery.

“How?” Mike said, looking at the perfectly normal blue-green orb on the viewscreen. “This system has to have been here for a few billion years.”

“5.6 billion, if the sensors are to be believed,” Corbair said. “Which is a big if.”

“Yeah yeah,” Mike said. “But the nebula…”

“…wasn’t here then,” Corbair explained. “Cosmic structures move independently of each other. The star system has been passing through this nebula for a couple million years now, which obscured the star from our sensors…and by ours, I mean the entire Federation. This isn’t on any star chart. We had to get well inside the nebula before we could detect it.”

“You’re sure the planet supports life? Even with this nebula around?”

“The scans are picking up energy and broadcast readings consistent with a technologically-developed society. Unless they all died and left the power on, somebody is there.”

“Okay. Ronnie, take us in. But slowly. We don’t want to appear hostile. Just nice and friendly,” Mike said.

“I could duck outside and paint a big smiley face on the front of the ship,” Corbair said flatly.

“Just watch for anyone coming to intercept us.”

“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Corbair replied, checking her sensor readouts.

“Do I want to hear this?” Mike said.

Corbair changed the image of the M Class planet on the viewscreen to an extreme close-up showing a structure in orbit over the blue-green world. At first glance, it was a hodgepodge of large white cylinders and massive black panels. It took Mike a minute to realize why it seemed so familiar.

“Is that supposed to be a space station?” Mike asked.

“Yes.”

“That’s not the only one, right? It’s a museum piece, RIGHT?”

“That’s the only manned craft of any sort in the area of the planet. Otherwise, there’s a bunch of basic satellites.”

“You said these people were technologically advanced!” Mike snapped.

“No. I said they were developed. They have developed technology,” Corbair said.

“Not the technology we need.”

“Come on, Mike,” Ronnie said. “It’s not that bad. They might have something we could use.”

“Sure. We’ll toss a couple of batteries and a toaster into the engine room and be good as new. But there’s the tiny issue that THESE PEOPLE ARE NOT WARP CAPABLE! Do you know how many Federation laws we’d be breaking?”

“One?” Ronnie offered.

“Well, yeah, but it’s a big one.”

“Do you want to go somewhere else?” Corbair asked. “We’re only ten years away from the next star system. Or we could go back and ask the Orions for help.”

Mike took a deep breath and let it out as a long slow sigh. “Fine. Let’s go introduce ourselves.”


“…and that’s how we gut a fish…in space,” Commander Nelg said before flashing a big toothy grin to the camera broadcasting his image into countless classrooms on Dirt below (Just to clarify, Dirt is the name the universal translator gives for the planet. In the language of its inhabitants, it’s actually the far less prosaic Vroollm. Well, it’s still prosaic to them because it means dirt, but you get the idea). “Thanks for watching, boys and girls. Keep sending in your ideas, and I’ll be back next week with another lesson from the Star Complex.”

Nelg waved at the audience back home until his colleague, Commander Mossirg, shut off the camera. “I feel so horrible!” Nelg wailed.

“They told me the fish was already dead. They promised!” Mossirg replied.

“It wiggled.”

“Maybe it was just some kind of after death autonomic response.”

Nelg thought for a second. “Yeah. That’s what it was. That had to be what it was. Command wouldn’t lie to us like that.”

“Of course not. Not when we were going to be showing that to the kids.”

“Let’s just pack it up. We’re scheduled for afternoon calisthenics in a few minutes.”

“Good. I could use a work out after…”

Nelg was cut off by a piercing squeal blasting out of the speakers on the wall of the module. The squeal gradually dissipated then changed to a fluctuating warble before finally resolving itself to…

“Hello? Can you hear me? Are you sure there’s someone in that thing? HELLO?????”

Nelg and Mossirg exchanged a confused look. Mossirg finally just shrugged. Nelg floated over to the nearest communication panel and turned it on. “Excuse me. This is a private frequency, and you should not be on it. Stop using it immediately, or you will be reported to the authorities.”

“Finally!” the male voice on the other end of the line exclaimed. “Yes, authorities. We need to talk to some authorities. Can you get us in touch with them?”

“Who is this?”

“Look out your damn window!” an angry female voice broke in. Nelg and Mossirg exchanged another glance, this one far more worried, and floated into the next module, which had a viewport. Outside was the dark grey metallic mass of the Clydesdale. Upon seeing the first alien vessel ever encountered by anyone from planet Dirt, Commanders Nelg and Mossirg’s reaction could be summed up in one word.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!”


“Maybe we should have broken it to them a little more gently,” Ronnie said as Mike scrambled to turn down the speaker volume.

“But that does answer the question about whether or not these people have had contact with other planets before,” Dr. Corbair said.

“Were we asking that question?”

“Not really.”

“At least they haven’t started shooting at us,” Mike said.

“With what?” Corbair replied. “These people can barely put a few tons of junk into orbit. They aren’t sitting on top of a few dozen phaser arrays and photon torpedo banks.”

“Please don’t hurt us,” a quavering voice on the other end of the comm channel begged.

“Put us in contact with your leaders,” Corbair said. “Comply with our demands or else!”

“Yes yes. We will. It will take some time, but we will do as you command.”

“Whatever. Just make it happen.” She gestured for Mike to close the comm channel, which he grudgingly did.

“I seem to remember saying something about being friendly to these people,” Mike said.

“Friendly takes too long. We have to get what we need and leave before they stop being in awe of us. Normally I’d suggest that we level a city to make our point, but we probably can’t without the intermix chamber online.”

“And we’d possibly kill millions of people!” Mike said.

“That’s the whole point,” Corbair said, an unspoken “duh” hanging in the air as she got up from her station. “I’m going to get a sandwich. If they contact us while I’m gone, don’t be nice. It just encourages them.” She headed into the lift, leaving Mike and Ronnie alone on the bridge.

“Didn’t I use to command this ship?” Mike asked.

“Not really,” Ronnie replied.

“I think I did.”

“You keep telling yourself that,” Ronnie said, patting her brother consolingly on the shoulder.


As hours passed, Mike began to wonder if the inhabitants of the planet below had opted for just ignoring the Clydesdale crew in hopes that they would go away. That would have been Mike’s preferred course of action, but circumstances (and the angry Tellarite in his engine room) left him no choice but to stay in orbit until the planet below provided materials that they could use to construct an intermix regulator. Mike had no idea how exactly that was going to happen, but Bork and Dr. Corbair seemed confident that they could cobble something together.

More annoyingly, though, was that he seemed to be far more worked up about the planet’s response than Corbair despite the fact that she was the one who’d made the demands in the first place.

The following morning was the first in a long time that Mike didn’t need a cup of coffee to get himself moving. He was wide awake, just as he’d been all night waiting for Noov to comm from the bridge to tell him that the planet was launching a volley of missiles at them. The comm from Noov and the missiles never came, so Mike was back on the bridge for more waiting.

“Good morning!” Ronnie said brightly as she exited the turbolift with Dr. Corbair.

“Yeah,” Mike grunted.

“You really need to relax,” Ronnie said, giving her brother an unwelcome shoulder rub. “It’s going to be fine. They like us.”

“Of course they do,” Mike said. “Why wouldn’t they? We only showed up unannounced, scared the crap out of some astronauts, and demanded to see their leaders. We’re absolutely best buds after that.”

“Let’s give them another hour and then blow up their space station,” Corbair said.

Mike glared at her.

“Fine. We can beam the astronauts off of it first.”

“Not the point. This is a First Contact situation. Starfleet should be handling this, not us.”

“I’ve got something,” Corbair said, checking her readouts.

“A plan that doesn’t involve killing anyone?”

“It’s a signal from the surface.”

“Told you they like us,” Ronnie said.

“Just answer it,” Mike said.

“Hello? Are you up there?” a quivering male voice asked.

“Yes. We’re here,” Mike replied.

“Wonderful! You’re really real!”

“Yes, we are. Who am I speaking with?”

“I am Chancellor Noomik of the Organized Nations of Dirt. Please allow me to be the first to welcome you to our world.”

“And your world is…Dirt?”

Ronnie reached over and muted the line for a moment. “That’s not weird. Think about where we’re from.”

“We’re from Earth,” Mike said. “That’s not…oh. Yeah. It is, isn’t it?”

“Uh huh.”

Mike unmuted the line. “Thank you for the welcome. We’re…happy to be here.”

“We would very much like to welcome you properly. The leaders of our world’s nations have gathered for a small reception in your honor,” Noomik said.

“Oh…well…that sounds nice, but really we only…”

“We will attend,” Dr. Corbair broke in.

“I’m so pleased!” Noomik said. “Will you need a place to land your vessel?”

“No. We have technology far beyond your own that allows us to travel to the surface. Send us information on your planet’s mapping system and coordinates for the reception, and we will be there in one hour,” Corbair said.

“Yes yes. Of course. We will transmit the data on this frequency and look forward to seeing you.”

“One hour!” Corbair said.

“Very good. Goodbye for now.”

The channel closed.

“What was that?” Mike said.

“They made us wait, so now we make them wait,” Corbair said.

“He didn’t even ask for our names,” Mike said. “Was that weird?”

“He was just excited,” Ronnie said.

“Still…we’re taking Smash with us. Just for the intimidation factor.”

“Okay, but he’d better keep a straight face this time,” Corbair said. “If he starts laughing, I’m going to seal his damn mouth shut.”

“He won’t have time. We’re going in, asking for the parts we need, and then leaving. That’s it.”

“Oh absolutely,” Corbair said.


An hour later, Mike, Dr. Corbair, and the Clydesdale’s massive Rigellan cargo supervisor, Unesh Wourl, better known as “Smash” to his friends and by anyone unfortunate enough to be too close to him when he turned suddenly, materialized in a sunlit corridor inside of the Organized Nations of Dirt headquarters building.

“Woah,” Smash said once the transport had completed and he realized that his head was mere centimeters from the ceiling. At well over two meters tall, Smash was big even for a Rigellan. He could certainly provide an intimidation factor…if he just wasn’t so good-natured. “Tight squeeze.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Mike asked.

“Yeah yeah, bossman. I’m good.”

“Shhhhh!” Dr. Corbair hissed. “Somebody’s coming.”

It was actually several somebodies.

A set of white double doors opened, and four humanoids dressed in smartly-tailored black suits rushed out into the hallway. They were all around five feet tall and, upon spotting Smash’s hulking form, the group skidded to a halt, staring up at him in awe. Or horror. As they were alien, Mike wasn’t really sure. Aside from their relatively small stature, the Dirtians (or Dirties, as Dr. Corbair insisted on calling them) were hairless with yellow-green skin that appeared slightly scaled, giving Mike the impression that their species had evolved along reptilian lines.

“You’re here!” the lead Dirty exclaimed, clapping happily. “But how? We heard a sound but saw no vessel.”

“Advanced technology,” Corbair said.

“Of course. Please excuse my rudeness. I am Chancellor Noomik. How wonderful to be able to greet you in person!”

“We’re thrilled as well,” Mike said. “And we don’t want to take up too much of your time. We really just need…”

“There will be time for that later, Michael,” Dr. Corbair said. “You’ll have to excuse him, Chancellor. He has something of a one-track mind and no sense of protocol.”

“One…track?” Noomik asked confused.

“Never mind. I’m Janet Corbair, and these are my…colleagues Michael Harper and Unesh Wourl,” Corbair said, gesturing to her companions. “We call Unesh ‘Smash,’” she added with more than a hint of a threat in her voice.

Noomik looked Smash up and down and gulped. “He certainly is…”

“…muscular,” Corbair said. “Now you said something about a reception.”

“Yes! Please come with me. Everyone is very excited.” Noomik spun around and took off down the corridor, the three other Dirties close behind. After a few steps, he came to an abrupt halt and turned back in horror. “I’m so sorry, Madam Corbair. Allow me to accompany you.”

“I don’t like this,” Mike said softly to Corbair.

“Oh I do,” Corbair replied with a grin. “I like it VERY much.” She joined Noomik, and the group made their way through several corridors and into a door that led to a small flight of stairs, which they climbed into a darkened area. Mike didn’t have time to try and figure out what it was before he was led out another exit…

…and onto a stage at the front of a massive chamber filled with rows and rows of desks, behind which sat countless Dirties. The inhabitants of the room broke into thunderous applause as soon as the Clydesdale crew members appeared, leaping to their feet to get a better glimpse of the newcomers.

“Oh no,” Mike said, grabbing Corbair’s arm and dragging her back the way they’d come. “No way.”

“Get the hell off of me!” Corbair snapped, yanking her arm away.

Noomik rushed over. “I assure you that your leader is perfectly safe.”

“My leader?” Mike said.

“Do you have a preferred title?” Noomik asked Corbair, ignoring Mike, whom he’d obviously categorized as a lackey. “My Lady? Your Highness? Empress?”

“I am not picky,” Corbair said. “Any of those will do.”

“You are too kind. I will say a few words and then would you do us the honor of addressing the assembly?”

“I would be happy to.” The pair approached the podium standing at the front of the stage.

Smash leaned down to Mike. “Hey, bossman?”

“Yeah, Smash,” Mike said.

“Was this part of the plan?”

“We didn’t have a plan.”

“Not to criticize, but I think we should make one next time because I really don’t think this should be happening.”

“No arguments here.”

At the podium, Noomik raised his hands into the air, signaling the gathered leaders to give him their attention. The room quickly fell silent.

“Most esteemed guests, I thank you all for gathering here on such short notice, but, as you are aware, these are momentous circumstances. For over one hundred years, this august body has served the nations and people of Dirt. We have settled conflicts, achieved consensus, and worked together to advance our society. Today we find ourselves in a changed world. The question that has long fascinated our scientists, ‘Are we alone?’ has been definitively answered. Great ones from beyond our world have arrived, and we WILL happily comply with their demands!”

Noomik turned to Corbair. “Madam Empress, we completely and unconditionally surrender to you, and we will gladly serve Your Eminence for the rest of our days. Dirt is yours.” He bowed deeply.

“WHAT?” Mike exclaimed. “We just wanted some parts!”

But his protests were drowned out by the din of more cheers and applause that shook the meeting chamber as Noomik stood aside, allowing Corbair to take the podium. The room again went quiet.

“Thank you, Chancellor Noomik,” Corbair said. “I accept your surrender and your service. Under my rule, you will find Dirt entering a Golden Age. You have much to learn from me, just as I have much to learn about you. I look forward to taking advantage of our newfound relationship. I have wonders from across the universe to show you, but there will be time for that. For now, go home to the citizens of your individuals nations and celebrate this new day dawning on a world united under my throne!”

Corbair took a moment to soak in the applause and cheers before striding back to Mike and Smash with a grin that the word “smug” didn’t even begin to cover. “And that’s how it’s done.”

“Bbbbbbut…what did you just do?” Mike stammered.

“Made the best First Contact ever, I’d say.”

“The Prime Directive…”

“We’re not Starfleet.”

“Still…”

“Still nothing. I gave them what they obviously wanted, which means we’ll get what we want,” Corbair said.

“The parts.”

“Yes, the parts. I need a couple of days, and then we’ll have them.”

“Days?”

“Hey! I’m the one doing all the work here!”

“Is being worshiped actually work?” Smash asked.

“I’m going to find out,” Corbair replied as Noomik rushed over.

“Madam Empress,” he said with yet another bow. “That was wonderful. Our people are energized in a way that I haven’t seen…ever. I regret to inform you that Dirt does not have a palace fit for one such as yourself, but I can offer you the finest hotel suite in the city.”

“That will suffice,” Corbair said. “You have already proven yourself valuable, Noomik. I believe I will keep you on as my Chief Dirty Advisor and Attendant.”

“Oh, thank you, Your Highness!” Noomik cried, dropping to kneel before her. “I live to serve.”

“So I can see,” Corbair said, giving a “What can I do?” shrug to Mike.

Noomik quickly got back to his feet. “I can arrange accommodations for your other attendants as well as any others who may be aboard your flagship.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Mike said. “Smash and I are just going to go back to the…flagship.” He turned to Corbair. “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course. Away with you. I am in good hands with Noomik.”

“The very best,” Noomik said proudly.

“Okay then,” Mike said. “We’ll see ourselves out. Come on, Smash.”

Smash looked down at Corbair for a moment. “Be good, Doc.”

“What else would I be?” she replied sweetly.

Smash smiled at her. “That’s the spirit,” he said, then headed off after Mike.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I don’t like this,” Mike said.

“Me either, bossman,” Smash said, shaking his head.

Mike activated his wrist communicator. “Clydesdale, come in.”

“You’ve got Wodak,” the Antaran who, when he wasn’t assisting in the cargo modules, most often handled the Clydesdale’s transporter, replied.

“Smash and I are ready to beam up.”

“What about Doctor Corbair?”

“Long story. Just bring us home.”

“You got it.”


Back on the Clydesdale, Mike made straight for the ship’s mess on Deck Two and threw himself into a chair at the table where Ronnie and Bork were already sitting eating lunch.

“Is this the part where we’re supposed to ask you what’s wrong?” Bork said flatly.

“If you don’t, he’s just going to sigh and groan until you do,” Ronnie said. “That’s why Mom called him Dramaboy.”

“No, she didn’t!” Mike protested.

“Not to your face.”

“Well, you know what she called you?”

“Nope. Tell me.”

“I’m sure there was something. I don’t remember.”

“Huh,” Bork said. “I would have thought that Mike won all of your childhood arguments. I appear to have been mistaken.”

“I won…most of the time,” Mike said.

“I really don’t care,” Bork said. “And just to head this off before you go into a prolonged reminiscence of your youth, what happened on the planet?”

“It was fine.”

“Really?” Ronnie said.

“Sure. We beamed down, met some nice people, conquered the planet.”

Bork began choking on the bit of meat in his mouth. “You what?” he finally gasped after clearing his windpipe.

“Did you threaten them?” Ronnie asked.

“No! We didn’t do anything. I swear! They completely ambushed us with their unconditional surrender.”

“Why would they do that?”

“I don’t know! We showed up, and they just handed the place to Corbair!”

“She must have done something,” Bork said.

“She ordered them around a lot,” Mike said. “They ate that up.”

“So much so that they put her in charge of their planet?” Bork said.

“Yeah.”

“That’s weird, right?” Ronnie said.

“I don’t think ‘weird’ begins to cover it,” Bork said. “These people have never seen an alien before, but their world appears to be at peace and relatively prosperous. We haven’t threatened them in any way, and we’ve seen no signs of aggression from them.”

“I didn’t even see any guards on the planet,” Mike said. “What is with these people?”

“I don’t know. I’m no anthropologist or social psychologist, but nothing about this makes any sense to me,” Bork said. “At least we can get the parts now.”

“I assume,” Mike said.

“What do you mean you assume?”

“I didn’t get a chance to ask for them, but Doctor Corbair said she’d take care of it.”

“When?”

“Soon. We’ll give her some time to play empress, and then we’ll get the parts and be out of here. Nothing to worry about.”


“I’m not leaving.”

Mike opened his mouth to respond to Dr. Corbair’s pronouncement, but then thought better of it. He wasn’t going to say anything calm or rational, so instead he turned to his sister. “Talk to her,” he said through gritted teeth.

“You really want to stay here, Janet?” Ronnie asked while Corbair sorted through a pile of gowns that had just been left in the sitting room of her hotel penthouse by Noomik. The Dirty waited in a corner for any other needs that Corbair might have, drawing a glare from Mike.

“Could we be alone?” Mike snapped. Noomik looked to Corbair, who nodded and waved him away.

“I will be right outside, Your Eminence,” Noomik said with a bow before exiting.

“Does he bathe you and chew your food for you, too?” Mike asked.

“Mike. Be nice,” Ronnie scolded. “And quiet.”

“I’m done,” Mike said.

“I am as well,” Corbair said.

“But this planet is so…primitive,” Ronnie said. “How could you live here?”

“These people need me. They’re desperate for my guidance.”

“Yes, but why?”

“Does it matter?”

“I would think you’d want to know if you’re about to be stuck here with no way to get back to your home.”

“This is my home now,” Corbair said. “I already got everything I need from the ship.”

“But your life with us…”

“What life?” Corbair snapped. “I didn’t ask to be on the Clydesdale. Starfleet put me there to finish my rehabilitation, and what happens to me once that time is up?”

“You could stay.”

“As enticing as spending the rest of my days stuck on that deathtrap is, I don’t think so. My reputation is shot in the scientific community, which doesn’t leave me with many options.”

“It’s the Federation. There are options everywhere,” Ronnie said.

“None that would interest me. I have a few of my own projects in the works, but nothing that would be better than staying here.”

“But…I’ll miss you.”

Corbair walked over to Ronnie, put a hand on each of her shoulders, and looked at her sternly. “That’s sweet of you to say, but I need you to believe me when I tell you that you are better off without me around.”

“Janet…”

“What the hell do you expect us to say happened to you?” Mike said, unable to stay out of the conversation anymore.

“Space is dangerous. I died. The end,” Corbair replied.

“You think it’s that simple?”

“Yep. There’s even a form for it.”

“Huh. And this is really what you want?”

“To rule a planet of beings catering to my every whim? Yeah, I think so.”

“Fine. I’m not going to fight you on it anymore, and I’m sure as hell not going to tell Starfleet about any of this. I don’t need that kind of trouble.”

“I appreciate that.”

“We just need those parts, and we’ll be on our way.”

“And you’ll have them…at some point.”

“When?”

“When the time is right. I’m just taking over here. I can’t very well ask the Dirties for spare parts because our ship is broken. Their faith in me would be instantly destroyed. Let me get a little more established, and I’ll work something out. As much as you want to leave, I want you gone more. Just go back to the Clydesdale until I contact you.”

“Will you come visit?” Ronnie asked hopefully.

“No. Get out.”

“Come on, Ronnie. She’s obviously fine without us,” Mike said, activating his wristcomm. “Wodak, beam us aboard.”

Corbair went back to looking through gowns, not even glancing up as Mike and Ronnie dematerialized.


“It didn’t go well, I take it,” Bork said as Mike stalked onto the Clydesdale’s bridge with Ronnie close behind. The Tellarite engineer had seated himself at the science station and was half-watching readouts scroll by.

“She seems happy,” Ronnie said, clearly not so pleased herself.

“But she’s not giving us any parts yet,” Mike said.

“I’m not surprised,” Bork replied.

“Me either.”

“See. She doesn’t really want us to go,” Ronnie said.

“Don’t kid yourself. We’re insurance,” Mike shot back. “Corbair wants to make absolutely sure that there are no hidden surprises down there before she lets us leave. If we play by her rules, we’re basically her prisoners until she decides she doesn’t need us around anymore.”

“Said like a man who doesn’t want to play by her rules,” Bork said.

“I don’t. We’re going to find the materials ourselves. We’ll beam down, take what we need, and get back to the ship before the Dirties even know we were there.”

“Or we could do this the easy way,” Bork said.

“What easy way?” Mike asked.

“Building an intermix regulator will require advanced electronics…or the closest thing to advanced electronics that this society has been able to construct. Where would be the most likely place to find those sorts of devices?”

“Their satellites!” Ronnie said.

“Exactly. And getting them doesn’t risk run-ins with the locals.”

“Is that what you were doing with the sensors?” Mike asked.

“I didn’t believe that your talk with Corbair was going to do any good, so I started checking into alternatives. I found something interesting, though,” Bork said, waving Mike and Ronnie over to the science station. “Look at these readings.”

“Those are…readings all right,” Mike said nodding. “Ronnie?”

“I agree,” Ronnie said.

“This is your ship, Mike,” Bork said. “You don’t know how to read the sensors?”

“I never had to,” Mike replied with a shrug.

“And you were in Starfleet, Ronnie. You never took a course on this?”

“It wasn’t my best subject.”

“This is why I had to spend so much time up here before Corbair came aboard,” Bork groused. “If she stays here, you’re finding a new science person. I have too much to do in the engine room to hang around on the bridge explaining things to you two.”

“What is the damn reading?” Mike snapped.

“Here,” Bork said, pointing at the waveform readout on his monitor. “It looks like just another satellite, but this thing doesn’t match up with any technology in the other Dirt satellites. And it’s got a power source well beyond anything these people could create. This is very advanced tech.”

“So we could build an intermix regulator with it?” Ronnie asked.

“Yes, but how did it get here? Who’s watching these people?”

“The Federation?” Ronnie offered.

“Couldn’t be,” Mike replied. “Doctor Corbair said this planet wasn’t on any of our star charts. The Federation has no idea Dirt is here.”

“That doesn’t look like Federation technology anyway,” Bork said.

“But you can use it.”

“I’ll need to bring it aboard to be sure, but I think so.”

“Do it. And I want to break orbit as soon as the ship’s ready.”

“What about Janet?” Ronnie protested.

“I think her royal highness will be just fine without us,” Mike said. “And we’ll be more than fine without her.”

“Until you need to scan something,” Bork muttered.


Dr. Corbair felt that she had a pretty good sense of when someone was trying to hide something from her. She’d certainly had enough experience at it herself before her activities were discovered, landing her in a rehabilitation colony. She also knew that when something seemed too good to be true, it usually wasn’t. After days of reading through the history of Dirt trying to find…well…dirt, she’d come up empty handed. From what Corbair could determine, the Dirties were probably the most boring species to ever evolve. Yes, they had separated into several nations, but not once had armed conflict been involved. National boundaries seemed to be established by mutual agreement, and disputes, such as they were, were quickly resolved either amongst the parties, or, if necessary, at the level of the Organized Nations of Dirt. Corbair had witnessed arguments over the toppings on pizza night on the Clydesdale that were fiercer than any that had taken place in the entire history of Dirt.

If it wasn’t for the nebula concealing their existence, the Dirties would have been conquered ages ago. Obviously it didn’t take much. Corbair was able to do it with little more than a commanding voice and some attitude.

But was it all too easy? Were they hiding something from her? Was there some darker reason that they wanted her to be their Empress?

So far she had met with the leaders of most of the nations of Dirt, who came to see her in Noomik’s former office at the Organized Nations of Dirt headquarters. Noomik had gladly handed the office over to her while her grand throne room and reception hall were being prepared. Each leader had been more than happy to declare their loyalty to her. When she pressed them about issues in their nations that she could help solve, none of the leaders told her about anything more serious than some traffic congestion and pollution, which was very typical of a society at this level of development. What wasn’t typical was their pressing desire to be ruled by her.

As each day passed, though, Corbair became more and more convinced that the Dirties were exactly what they appeared to be. But until she was absolutely certain, she wasn’t about to help Mike Harper fix the Clydesdale. They weren’t going anywhere until she said they could.

Or so Dr. Corbair thought.

Approximately 36 hours after a satellite that had no business being in orbit of Dirt in the first place was beamed on board the Clydesdale, Bork called Mike down to the freighter’s engine room. Soon after exiting the lift onto deck four and starting down the long corridor past the six empty cargo modules, Mike heard shouting and rhythmic thumping.

Tracing the sound to one of the modules, he peeked inside to find Smash, Wodak, and the Clydesdale’s other cargo handler, Pafal Sris, running around the module. Paf and Smash were dribbling basketballs from the rec room two decks up while Wodak attempted to slap the balls away from them.

“Hey, bossman!” Smash called after spotting Mike. “Wanna play?”

“Thanks, but I’ve gotta see Bork. Um…what are you playing, actually?”

“Not sure. We just made it up. I never got the point of that hoop game you use these for.”

“Basketball,” Mike said. “And you never got the point because you can walk over and practically drop the ball through the hoop. If you were shorter, it’d be more of a challenge.”

“Gotcha. Hey, are we going to be going anywhere soon?”

“I hope so. That’s what I’m seeing Bork about.”

“He’ll get us moving again. He always does. Then we can get the Doc and head out.”

“Yeah. Well…we’ll see how it goes,” Mike said. “I’ll let you get back to…dribbling.”

“Dribble! That’s what we’ll call it!” Wodak said, drawing an approving grunt from Paf.

Mike made continued the rest of the way down the corridor, past Smash’s office and the scattered anti-grav sleds and such stored in the hall, until he reached the end and the entrance to the engine room. Inside, Bork was busy adjusting a large tangle of wires running among several circuit boards that had been tied into the warp core.

“About time,” Bork snorted as Mike entered.

“You aren’t the only person on this ship I needed to talk to.”

“I’m the only one doing anything useful.”

“Is that it?” Mike asked, ignoring the jab and pointing at the mass of equipment Bork had been working on.

“It’s not pretty, but it’ll do the job. Fortunately, our mysterious satellite makers use a very modular and sensible form of design. I was able to wipe out their programming and replace it with my own. From there it was mainly a matter of tying it into the flow sensors and valves. It’s rudimentary, but it’ll be enough to keep the warp drive running. And don’t go asking for warp 4.6 or anything like that. You get basic increments. But keep it at warp six or below. Otherwise, you could fry the whole thing.”

“That’s fantastic, Bork!” Mike said. “How soon will it be done?”

“It’s ready now. Why else would I have called you down here?”

“To…give me a progress report?”

“It’s done. There’s my report.”

“Thank you! I am making you whatever you want for dinner tonight.”

“Is that supposed to be a reward?” Bork asked with a grimace. “How about you make Paf cook instead?”

“Done. Prepare to break orbit.”

“What about Corbair?”

“She made her choice.”

“She was keeping her options open.”

“No, she left us hanging around as a fallback plan.”

“So she just gets left behind? That’s your idea of loyalty to your crew?”

“When did she ever act like a member of this crew?” Mike shot back. “Since we got here, has she given the slightest hint that she gives a damn about any of us beyond our ability to chauffeur her ass out of this system if things go south with her new empire? I know she didn’t want to be on board. Hell, we didn’t want her either. But I thought after all these months maybe we’d established…something with her.”

“She hurt your feelings. Is that really worth abandoning her here?”

“If you’re about to give me a bunch of ‘be the bigger man’ crap, don’t bother. It’s not happening,” Mike said. “She left us. We’re leaving her. I’m breaking orbit as soon as I get up to the bridge. Be ready.”

He strode out of the room, leaving the engineer alone. “Most commanding he’s ever been,” Bork said with a chuckle.


Mike arrived on the bridge, reflexively glancing at the empty chair at the science console. Corbair was gone. She wasn’t coming back. And he did not care.

“Clydesdale to Corbair.”

Obviously someone else did, though. “Clydesdale to Corbair,” Ronnie repeated.

“She’s not going to answer, Ronnie. Prepare to break orbit.”

“You’re just going to leave her?!?”

“I just went through this with Bork. Corbair made her choice.”

“What if she’s in trouble?”

“Did she seem like she was in trouble?”

“No…but…”

“I’m sure she’s a busy Empress, Ronnie. We need to go. Take us out. Warp two,” Mike ordered as he laid in a direct course back to Starbase Six.

“Taking us out,” Ronnie said. “Bye, Janet.”


“Isn’t it a bit soon for a statue?”

“Oh no, Your Eminence,” Noomik said. “A statue of you, particularly one of this magnitude, is exactly the sort of symbol our people need.”

Almost silently, one of Noomik’s many assistants slipped into the office, handed him a paper, and was gone again in an instant.

“What is it?” Corbair asked.

“Word from the Space Complex, Your Highness. Commander Nelg reports that your flagship has departed.”

Corbair covered her surprise. Was Harper really going to try flying home at impulse? Or had Bork managed to make repairs? It was more likely the latter, since Mike, while occasionally stubborn, wasn’t suicidal.

“Yes,” Corbair replied, quickly forming a lie. “They are returning to our homeworld to share the good news of our discovery and also to inform my other subjects that my capitol will be moving here permanently.”

“We are humbled and deeply honored, Your Majesty,” Noomik said, bowing deeply.

“Now about this statue…”


The distance through the nebula that took the Clydesdale five days to traverse going in at impulse, took less than an hour going out at warp. Soon, the freighter cleared the fringes of the nebula gasses and entered open space where…

“RAIDER!” Ronnie cried, slamming the ship into a hard turn.

Mike checked his readouts in a panic. Sure enough an Orion raider was passing ahead (and well above them, if you want to get three dimensional about it…not that there’s really an above in space, but relative to the orientation of the Clydesdale, the ship was… <SMACK!> OWWWWW! Okay okay. Moving on.), roughly perpendicular to their course.

“Don’t see us,” Mike said. “Don’t see us.”

“He’s changing course to intercept.”

“Dammit! Bridge to Bork!”

“What now?” Bork’s voice snapped over the comm.

“We’ve got a raider closing in. We may need to push the engines a bit.”

“Don’t do it! That’s how we got into this mess in the first place!”

“We don’t have a choice.”

“Then only up to warp six. NO HIGHER!”

“No promises. Bridge out,” Mike said. “We’ve got to go back in there.”

“They might find Dirt!”

“We can’t outrun them. Hiding is all we’ve got. Go!”

Ronnie pushed the Clydesdale up to warp six and dove back into the nebula, trying to angle their course as far away from Dirt as possible. The raider followed minutes later, but it was closing fast. Too fast, actually.

“They’re going to detect Dirt,” Ronnie said.

“You don’t know that.”

“We can detect it from this position.”

“Our sensors are better than theirs.”

“Not that much better. They’re going to destroy us and then head for the planet,” Ronnie said, abruptly changing course.

“So you turn straight toward Dirt? What the hell are you doing?” Mike demanded.

“Trying something else!” Ronnie shouted back as the Dirt system rapidly approached.

“Ronnie. Ronnie. That’s their star. You’re heading right toward the…RONNIE!”

Ignoring Mike’s panic, Ronnie altered course just slightly and dropped out of warp far closer to the star at the center of the Dirt system than Mike would have liked.

“How does this help?” Mike screamed.

“I just cut off several of their possible approach vectors.”

“Well, the shields are holding, but we’re going to be heating up fast,” Mike said.

“Arm phasers!” Ronnie said.

“What?”

“PHASERS!”

“Oh!” Mike said, activating the targeting controls just as the raider dropped out of warp beyond the Clydesdale. Mike immediately opened fire with the Clydesdale’s phasers. They weren’t much compared with the power of a starship, but a direct hit could put a hurting on a smaller vessel.

In this case, the raider barely had a chance to switch to impulse maneuvering before the phaser beams slammed into it.

“Ha! Got them!” Mike said.

“How bad are they hurt?”

“I have no idea.”

“This is why we need Janet.”

“Not now, Ronnie,” Mike said, firing again as the raider turned for an attack run. As Ronnie had planned, the Clydesdale’s proximity to the star limited the raider’s course options, but its speed more than made up for it as it zoomed by, hammering the Clydesdale’s shields while dodging most of Mike’s attempts to return fire.

“We’re wearing them down,” Ronnie said confidently.

“Not fast enough,” Mike said. “Our shields are down to 26 percent!”

“Shoot better!” Ronnie shouted.

“Oh yeah. That helps!” Mike retorted with a quick glare in her direction. He fired off another shot, winging the raider as it turned to make another pass. If it was damaged at all, it didn’t show it as it slammed another volley into the Clydesdale.

“One more hit like that, and we’re done,” Mike said.

“It’s going to be okay,” Ronnie said.

“I love the positive thinking, but…WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?”

A huge spherical ship had just entered the Dirt system on a direct course toward the sun. Mike brought the object up on the viewscreen. At first it appeared to be a moving star, but as it loomed closer, the yellow glow on its surface resolved into hundreds of glowing yellow domes attached to a massive metallic structure. The Orion ship turned to engage the newcomer, but was blasted into oblivion by the sphere before it could even get off a shot.

“We’re saved!” Ronnie cried.

“Or in really big trouble,” Mike said. His console began to flash indicating an incoming hail. “Well, they want to talk. That’s a good sign…I hope.”

He opened the channel, and the image of the ship was replaced by the visage of a grey-skinned alien, its face frozen in a horrifying rictus as its yellow eyes seemed to bore right into Mike. Then suddenly it was knocked aside by what could only be described as an angry bald toddler in a silver onesie.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” the toddler screamed.

“What? Wait. You just clobbered that guy!” Mike said.

“It’s a puppet. Now answer me before I blow you up too.”

“Umm…we were running from the other ship.”

“Don’t give me that. I’m detecting First Federation technology aboard your ship.”

“Federation? You’re Starfleet?” Ronnie asked.

“No. The FIRST Federation. We’re a completely different species. And YOU have been to Heglin.”

“Heglin?” Mike asked. “You mean Dirt?”

“You called it Dirt?”

“That’s what the Dirties told us it was called,” Ronnie said.

“Right. When you went down there and took over their planet!”

“Oh…so you know about that,” Mike said.

“We were monitoring the whole thing until you stole our satellite.”

“Look Mister…”

“Gobot. I am Gobot, Captain of the First Federation Starship Yosarius, and you have trespassed on a protected world. I should destroy you immediately.”

“In our defense, we didn’t know. You didn’t actually put up signs…or a warning buoy…or anything,” Ronnie said.

“So you just thought you’d swoop in and conquer a primitive species.”

“We didn’t do anything threatening. I promise!” Mike said.

“You didn’t have to. The Heglin are possibly the only species in the universe that have absolutely no desire to rule anyone. They have governments out of organizational necessity rather than any desire for power. There’s never been a single war on the planet because the second one Heglin got remotely threatening, every other Heglin would give in to him, grateful that someone else was taking charge. No one wants that responsibility, so they work very hard to resolve conflicts in a way that doesn’t end with both sides attempting to surrender to the other. If any member of your crew was remotely commanding, the Heglin were probably falling all over themselves to declare their eternal loyalty.”

“Yeah. That’s basically what happened,” Mike said.

“Which is why we were monitoring them and keeping them under our protection. Any outside influence could bring the development of their civilization to a complete halt.”

“Sorry, but we needed parts for our ship.”

“And now you’re running away and leaving me to clean up the mess,” Gobot said.

“Ummm…not exactly.”

“You weren’t leaving?”

“No, we were. But we left someone behind. Doctor Janet Corbair.”

“She’s their new Empress,” Ronnie added cheerily.

“GET. HER. OUT.”

“But she’s doing a good job!”

“Then I will destroy you and remove her myself.”

“That’s not necessary,” Mike said quickly. “We’ll head over there and beam her up right now.”

“No no. You will find a way to get her off of Heglin and return the people there to self-rule without their society crumbling from the sudden loss of their ruler.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” Mike cried.

“Find a way. Or else…”

“…you’ll destroy us. Yeah yeah. I got it.”


“Noomik, this is positively resplendent,” Dr. Corbair said, looking around her new throne room appreciatively. The delegate desks in the former assembly chamber of the Organized Nations of Dirt headquarters had been removed in favor of columns, sculptures, and other fine art gathered from across the planet. The podium that once sat on the stage had been replaced by an ornate golden throne, upholstered in red velvet and sparkling from the gemstones embedded in the armrests.

Corbair took a seat in her new throne and let out a contented sigh. “This is…adequate.”

“I am very pleased to hear it, your eminence. Is there anything else that I can get you?”

“I’m a bit hungry. Find me something, please. But nothing too heavy.”

“At once,” Noomik said with a bow before exiting the room. For her part, Corbair closed her eyes and let it all sink in for a bit.

At some point when she was a little girl, Corbair had decided that her career goal was to be Queen of the Universe. As she got older, she put the idea aside in favor of more realistic aspirations, but at that moment, Corbair had to admit that her younger self had the right idea. But forget Queen. She was an Empress. Sole ruler of…

Was that a transporter?

She opened her eyes just as Mike and Smash finished materializing in front of her throne.

“What are you doing here?” Corbair demanded. “I thought you left!”

“Change of plans. You’ve got to come with us.”

“The hell I do.”

“The really freakin’ huge alien ship up there disagrees.”

“What ship?”

“They say they’ve been protecting this planet.”

“They haven’t been doing a great job. I was able to come in and take right over.”

“Yeah. They’re not real happy about that.”

“Sounds like their problem.”

“No. They’re threatening to blow up my ship, which makes it my problem. You’re leaving. Now. Ronnie’s at your hotel room now packing up your stuff.”

“You can’t just pull me out of here,” Corbair said. “Otherwise, you would have just beamed me up. My disappearance could throw this entire planet into disarray.”

“True. But Smash and I are here to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Mike said.

“Right, bossman,” Smash said.

Noomik returned, carrying a plate of food for his empress and a refreshing beverage. Mike quickly changed his demeanor. “…which is why I’m here, Your Majesty. Our spies indicate that the attempt against your life could come at any time. Revolutionaries are everywhere.” He turned on Noomik, pointing accusingly at the plate. “What treason is this?!?”

“It’s lunch,” Noomik said.

Mike reeled back, feigning as much horror as he could muster. “We had no idea you had mastered such devastating weaponry.”

“A sandwich?” Noomik said confused.

“Yes. That sand…wich.”

“But Her Eminence had one yesterday.”

“Ah…yes…but it wasn’t a… What kind of meat is that?”

“Kuvar breast?”

“KUVAR BREAST! You monster! Protect the Empress. We are overthrown and must away!”

“No!” Corbair shouted, leaping to her feet from her throne. “Nobody is awaying anywhere.”

Smash took the opportunity to wrap an arm around Corbair. “Sorry about this, Doc,” he said, tossing her gently over his shoulder.

“Put me down, you oaf!”

“Woah now. I’m just following the bossman’s orders. No need to get nasty.”

“You haven’t seen nasty yet!”

“Beam them up,” Mike said quickly into his wrist communicator. Smash and the infuriated scientist dematerialized a moment later, Corbair slamming her fists uselessly against his back all the while.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Noomik wailed, dropping the plate and glass and falling to his knees as his Empress vanished.

Now came the hard part. Mike had to convince this quivering puddle of a man that this was all for the best. This called for an inspiring speech in the best tradition of Starfleet captains. As Mike wasn’t a Starfleet captain, he really wished he’d spent some time thinking about what he was going to say before he beamed down. Oh well. Too late now.

“Uhhh…you have accomplished great deeds this day!” Err…too melodramatic.

“I have?” Noomik asked, looking up at Mike through tears. Okay. If Noomik was buying it, Mike would keep going.

“Yes,” Mike said, helping the Dirty to his feet. “You have.”

“I didn’t do anything. And now she’s gone!”

“Yes, she’s gone. You have…thrown off the yoke of a…bad person. A cruel tyrant! A despot! You have freed your people and ensured that the people of Dirt will be able to determine the course of your own affairs without any outside interference. You have risen up! Taken up arms…or sandwiches…and overthrown your oppressors. Celebrate this day. And now I must flee from your righteous fury.” He quickly raised his wristcomm to his mouth. “Beam me out, Wodak. Now.”

“Wait!” Noomik said as Mike began to dematerialize. “We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to overthrow you. Please come back!”

But no one was returning. Noomik wiped the way the last of his tears, pulled out his phone, and dialed. “Thantu? It’s Noomik. Better get the desks and podium back in here. We’re on our own again….I know….I thought so, too. Oh, from now on we’re banning sandwiches. They’re much too dangerous.”


Mike raced onto the Clydesdale’s bridge and hurried over to his seat. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” he said to Ronnie. “We need to be underway before she gets up here!”

“Ok! We’re going!” Ronnie said, maneuvering the Clydesdale out of orbit toward the edge of the system. “Is she that mad?”

“She was trying to beat up Smash.”

“Oh.”

“Better him than me.”

“True, but I think she’ll understand why you had to get her when she sees that,” Ronnie said, pointing at the viewscreen. The Yosarius had positioned itself right along the Clydesdale’s escape route, forcing Ronnie to bring the ship to a halt. Almost immediately, Mike’s console signaled an incoming comm.

“Is there a problem, Gobot?” Mike said after opening the channel.

“Surprisingly no,” Gobot’s image on the viewscreen replied. “I’m not detecting any riots on Heglin, and all of the official communications channels I’m monitoring seem to indicate nothing but subdued acceptance of their Empress’ departure.”

“Well, if anyone got too angry, the others would make him ruler of the planet, right?”

“True. I may not have to destroy you, after all.”

“That’s awfully nice of you, but I have one seriously upset scientist to deal with.”

Gobot rolled his eyes. “Do you need me to smooth things over with her?”

“She might actually listen to you. But when she gets up here, could you go back to using the big dummy head?”

“You’re the big dummy head,” Ronnie snickered.

No sooner had Gobot positioned the puppet head back into view when the lift doors opened, allowing Dr. Corbair to storm onto the bridge. “All right, Harper!” she shouted. “What’s the big idea with…” she trailed off after spotting the monstrous being on the viewscreen. Gobot had even activated some mood lighting and a waver in the incoming signal to up the creepy factor. “Umm…who is this?”

“I AM GOBOT!”

“This is the guy who was going to kill us unless we got you off of that planet,” Mike replied as Corbair raced over to the science console.

“That ship is HUGE!” she cried.

“Yeah, we noticed.”

“YOU HAVE TRESPASSED INTO THE SPACE OF THE FIRST FEDERATION. DEPART NOW OR YOU WILL BE DESTROYED!”

“See,” Mike said with a shrug. “Nothing we could do.”

“I guess not,” Corbair said quietly, her rage wiped away in the face of the insurmountable force facing the Clydesdale.

“Are you okay, Janet?” Ronnie asked.

“I’m going to my quarters.”

“All your stuff’s there. Paf went and got it from Dirt while Mike and Smash were getting you.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Corbair said, trudging back to the lift. Moments later, she was gone.


“IT IS DONE,” Gobot boomed. “OH. SORRY.” The puppet was once again shoved aside in favor of the alien’s true form. “Didn’t shut off the voice modulator. We are done here. You may go in peace.”

“Thank you,” Mike said. “And if the First Federation establishes trade with our Federation, please keep us in mind for your cargo transporting needs. We’d be happy to work with you again.”

“Get out of this nebula.”

“All right then.”


The Clydesdale took a far more cautious approach to leaving the nebula, making sure that no Orions were in sensor range before making a run back toward the safety of Federation space. As much of a run as they could manage at Warp Six anyway.

With several days of travel ahead until they reached Starbase 6, life aboard the Clydesdale settled into its usual routine, only without Dr. Corbair, who was keeping to herself in her quarters.

Two days into the return trip, she finally made an appearance, sneaking into the galley well after the end of the evening meal. Or it would have been sneaking if Ronnie wasn’t already there scavenging for a late snack.

“Janet!” Ronnie exclaimed happily upon spotting Corbair.

“Crap,” Corbair muttered.

“I was starting to think you weren’t ever coming out.”

“I got hungry,” Corbair said.

“Do you want me to make you something?”

“No. I’ve got it.”

“I’m really sorry about what happened,” Ronnie said. “But how many people can say they conquered an entire planet without firing a shot? Or even having a gun?”

Corbair chuckled. “There is that.”

“Oh, did Paf get everything from your hotel room? I tried to make sure we didn’t leave anything behind.”

“Yeah. It’s fine.” Corbair’s illicitly-gained tricorder was still with her belongings, so at the very least she could go back to her original line of research.

“Good. I’m sure you’d rather be alone now, but, for what it’s worth, I’m glad you’re back. I know what you said, but I can’t imagine ever being better off without you here.”

Then, snack supplies in hand, Ronnie headed out of the galley.

“My dear, you’re going to find that you’re very very wrong,” Corbair said.

Ronnie poked her head back in. “Did you say something?”

“No. Nothing. Just thinking out loud.”

“Oh. Okay.” And she was gone again.

“Very Wrong.”

“What, Janet?”

“Go away!”


END



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