Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: THE TRAKS FILES
“Bringing Down The Big Top - Part Two”
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN HERE AND THERE OUTER SPACE
Another padd hit the sofa, joining the growing pile on the cushion beside Agent Batyn. Batyn didn’t even look up from the waterproof scarf he was knitting.
Agent Samantha Dallas growled slightly, crossing her arms in a huff and scowling as she sat at the table in the ship’s small common area in front of another pile of padds. The ship, which belonged to one Admiral Earl Wyndham, was currently sitting cloaked at a set of coordinates that had been provided by Wyndham before he’d disappeared from a moon in the Cardassian Sector a week earlier.
Dallas huffed again, this time more loudly.
“I’m not doing it,” Batyn said flatly.
“Doing what?” Dallas snapped.
“Asking you what you’re upset about. I don’t care.” Batyn completed another row of the scarf and smiled slightly. Who knew that such a primitive activity could be so relaxing? He’d found the yarn and instructions in the disaster area that was Wyndham’s bedroom and quickly discovered that he had a knack for knitting. With the yarn now waterproofed, Batyn figured that he had a good head start on his mother’s Auqanarid Festival gift.
“Have you read any of these padds?” Dallas asked.
“Nope. Don’t want to. Don’t care.”
“The man is insane!”
“I seem to remember mentioning that about a week ago.”
“That last padd was nothing but his ‘proof’ that his childhood cat was some kind of alien spy!”
“I never trusted them anyway. All that fur and those sharp little teeth. And the hissing. No good ever came from anything that hissed.”
“I just thought that he’d have more about the Crazy Condors,” Dallas said, picking up another padd. “Most of what he has, I already knew. The Condors were helping Starfleet Officers vanish. I knew that. I almost got mimed to death for that information. They’re building some kind of fleet. I knew that, too. I found ship parts the Crazy Condors were smuggling over two years ago.”
“So what’s the problem?” Batyn asked.
“Who’s behind it?” Dallas demanded. “Wyndham makes some references to the Condor King, but he never goes into detail. It’s almost like…he’s afraid.”
“Maybe he is. Anyone who can secretly build a fleet of ships and convince Starfleet Officers to man them seems like a good person to fear.”
“Still. He could have given me a name to work with. Or maybe the location of their base.”
“And if he’d told you everything, would you still be here to meet him or would you have charged into the Condors’ base alone waving your phaser around and screaming ‘You’re under arrest! All five thousand of you!’?”
“We don’t know that they have five thousand people.”
“That’s not the point. The fact is that you’d go, and you know it,” Batyn said.
The pair sat silently for several moments, then…
“Dammit!” Batyn shouted.
“You got me to talk about this Condor crap! I told you I didn’t care, but you just couldn’t leave me alone, could you? You…”
Batyn’s rant was interrupted by a piercing alarm from the cockpit.
“Something’s coming,” Dallas said, leaping up from her chair and racing into the cockpit. Batyn carefully set his knitting aside and joined her. Dallas was already poring over the long-range sensors.
“It’s a small craft. Private registry. I’m reading one life-sign. Human,” Dallas said.
“Wyndham?” Batyn asked.
“Possibly. It’s slowing. Now stopping.” As a matter of fact, the craft came to a stop not four thousand meters away from Dallas and Batyn’s ship. A moment later, the familiar tones of a transporter sounded from behind Batyn. He and Dallas turned in time to see Earl Wyndham materialize, his face covered with a broad grin.
“What pleasantness to lay eyes on a fish and rook,” Wyndham said, pushing his way past Batyn to the pilot’s chair. “Time to fly away before the Condors do.”
Dallas’ attention was grabbed by a new blip on the sensors, approaching fast from the direction from which Wyndham’s vessel had just come.
“Um…who is that?”
“A rook of a different board,” Wyndham replied nonchalantly.
“That’s an Excelsior-class starship!” Dallas exclaimed as the sensors gathered more data. “Are they chasing you?”
“I hope so,” Wyndham grinned as he slowly moved the ship away from the scene so as to minimize any possible disturbance to their cloak. “But my turn with Rook One is done. Let’s see what Rook Two can do.”
Batyn groaned. “I’ll be knitting,” he said, heading to the back.
“Does the fish knit?” Wyndham asked Dallas, his eyes dancing. “Wonderful hobby. Clears the mind.”
“You don’t say,” Dallas replied.
CONDORS’ NEST BETA QUADRANT
“I’m sorry, Mister Cullers, but the Admiral is quite busy at the moment,” Lieutenant Bartholomew Radley, Admiral Hitori Sulu’s personal assistant, said once he emerged from the massive situation control room in the hollowed-out asteroid known as the Condors’ Nest.
“He won’t see me?” Adrian Cullers, ringmaster of the Crazy Condor Circus, replied in disbelief.
“Perhaps you could return at a less busy time.”
“You want me to make an appointment?” Cullers asked angrily.
“That would probably be best. The Admiral’s calendar doesn’t really clear up until after we overthrow the Federation, but I’m sure that once that’s over he could…”
“Never mind,” Cullers snapped, spinning on his heel and storming off down the corridors. Out in space around the Nest, Cullers knew that hundreds of starships were waiting for word from Admiral Sulu to bring forth his so-called Next Federation, ships that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the parts that the Crazy Condor circus smuggled in. But now Sulu had evidently decided he didn’t need the Crazy Condors anymore. The “Condor King” was almost ready to head off with his flock, so who needed a bunch of circus types around?
“Jeeze. Make a couple of little mistakes,” Cullers muttered. First the Crazy Condors had failed to get a prototype subspace generator from Bradley Dillon’s Dillon Enterprises. That job had eventually fallen to the two muscle-bound Vulcans-for-hire Sulu had brought in. Then there was the fiasco in the Cardassian Sector. Instead of bringing back twenty Dominion prototype polaron destabilizers, the Crazy Condors had only been able to bring back five.
In all honesty, Cullers didn’t have much of a circus left. His mimes had abandoned him after having their asses thoroughly kicked by Agent Samantha Dallas, he’d lost his hypnotist and two of his Vulcan trapeze artists to Dallas on Waystation, and most of his other performers and crew had seen the writing on the wall after those disasters clearly enough to jump ship. Now he was down to Claude the Poodle Trainer and Matilda the Waltzing Weightlifting Bearded Lady.
Yet through it all, Cullers had been loyal to Sulu. The Admiral had funded his circus and helped him live his dream of running the show under the big top. All he’d wanted in return was for Cullers to help him overthrow the government. Was that too much to ask?
Cullers didn’t think so. Sulu was obviously a patron of the circus arts. Besides, being a criminal mastermind was rather fun. He’d enjoyed working out the details of how to smuggle the ship parts and personnel to the Condor’s Nest without arousing too much suspicion from Starfleet. Of course, Sulu was able to deflect most potential interest in their activities. And in the future, with Sulu in charge of his Next Federation, Cullers was looking forward to the Crazy Condors becoming the preeminent circus troupe in the galaxy. But now…now they were just a ragtag group of glorified flunkies.
This was all Samantha Dallas’ fault. Her and that damn fish on legs. If he ever got his hands on them again, Cullers would make them pay. He’d get his revenge and show Admiral Sulu that the Crazy Condors were worthy of his support once again!
“Investigation Log. Stardate 53999.6. We have arrived at a planetoid Admiral Wyndham calls Demon’s Sanctum. I’ve never heard of the place myself, but judging by the looks of the ships in orbit, some unsavory types hang out here. The Sanctum’s coordinates place us just inside the Beta Quadrant within a reasonable distance of Waystation. My question now is, “what are we doing here?”
“Wyndham has said something about waiting for someone to return to the Nest, but I have no idea where this so-called Nest is. Instead, we’ve just been sitting in a high orbit cloaked. I’ve been patient up until now, but if Wyndham doesn’t show me where Adrian Cullers and the rest of his Crazy Condors are soon, I’m going to start taking matters into my own hands.
“That is assuming Starfleet doesn’t take action first. The Excelsior class starship that was chasing Wyndham arrived in the region of Demon’s Sanctum a short time ago. They have remained far enough away that most ships here probably haven’t detected them. Instead, they launched a civilian craft, the same one that Wyndham met us in, which has since gone to Demon’s Sanctum.
“Again, Wyndham seems to know more about this ship than he’s telling me. All he’ll say is that the other rook is not my concern, whatever that means, but I’m really getting sick of this whole situation. I feel like there’s a lot more going on here than I’m aware of. One of these days, I’m going to get the rest of the story.”
“Any change?” Agent Dallas asked, stepping into the cockpit of their cloaked ship.
“None that smiling-boy seems to think is important,” Batyn replied, his legs propped up on the co-pilot’s console as he sat with his arms crossed. “Our Starfleet friends went into a bar a little while ago, and in a certain dark alley, a Tellarite and a Horta are doing things with each other that will give me nightmares for the rest of my life.”
“At least you’re keeping busy,” Dallas said.
“They fly!” Wyndham exclaimed suddenly, watching a monitor on his pilot’s console. “The course is straight and true!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Batyn demanded.
“Who cares as long as something’s happening?” Dallas said, shoving Batyn’s feet aside to get a look at his console. A single ship had left Demon’s Sanctum and was making its way toward a nearby asteroid cluster. Wyndham, meanwhile, had powered up the engines and was now closing in on the departing vessel.
“Are they headed to the Nest?” Dallas asked.
Wyndham nodded. “Returning to the flock.”
“I’m reading two Vulcans and two humans on board,” Batyn said.
“They will be our key to the Condor Kingdom; we shall skulk as their shadow,” Wyndham said.
“Sure,” Batyn said as Wyndham pulled up almost directly behind the other ship, keeping just far enough back to stay out of their engine wake. The ships passed the outer ring of asteroids, which soon turned out to be the only ring of asteroids. Inside the vast sphere created by the asteroid ring was empty space except for two minor details.
1) The giant asteroid at the center of the ring.
2) The massive fleet of starships milling about.
“Um…why didn’t we notice them before?” Dallas asked Batyn.
“The asteroids were interfering with the sensors somehow. I was reading nothing but rock until we actually got in here. On the bright side, they all seem to be Federation ships.”
“Next Federation,” Wyndham said.
“Next…” Batyn said, trailing off as he got a good look at the names on a couple of the ships they passed. USS CONDOR - 45. USS CONDOR - 62.
“So this is the flock of condors,” Dallas said. “But why are they here? You said Next Federation. Are they going to try to take over?”
“Out with the old; in with the new, if the Condor King has his say, his way, and his day.”
“Who is the Condor King?” Dallas asked. “Is it Cullers?”
Wyndham laughed. “Don’t confuse a pawn for a King! Rook One must put the King in check. Rook Two must rescue my knight.”
“Which rook am I again?”
“Two,” Batyn said. Ahead of them, a massive metal door embedded in the central asteroid slid open, revealing a docking bay. Inside was a ship that Dallas recognized from a visit Waystation a couple of months earlier.
“Cullers,” she said darkly as Wyndham slid into the docking bay and landed between the Crazy Condors’ ship and the ship they had followed to the Nest. As soon as both new arrivals touched down, the docking bay doors began to close.
“That explains the follow-the-leader routine,” Batyn said.
Wyndham nodded again. “No one sees the shadow.”
“That’s fine with me,” Batyn said. His attention was drawn to the group of people who had just entered the docking bay from the corridor beyond and were quickly moving to the other vessel. “Er…what’s with the uniforms?” he asked.
“They’re wrong!” Dallas said, looking at the red and black clad group. It was like watching an old holovid from Admiral Kirk’s trial or something. Sure they were smart-looking outfits, but it was a bit creepy seeing people actually walking around in them.
“Everything old is new again,” Wyndham said. “The Condor King wants the Next Federation to be his old Federation.”
“Sounds like this guy is a few coral short of a reef,” Batyn muttered.
The group of strangely-clad Next Federation officers emerged from the other vessel, carrying two unconscious humans away with them. They were followed out of the ship and then out of the docking bay by two hulking Vulcans.
“All right. I’ve seen enough,” Dallas said. “What’s the plan?”
“You will rescue the Knight,” Wyndham said.
Dallas and Batyn stared at him in silence for a moment. “That’s it?” Dallas asked finally.
“The Knight must not fall to the King. Save the Knight!” Wyndham said, his eyes wide with urgency.
“What about Cullers?” Dallas demanded.
“Knight!” Wyndham bellowed.
“Cullers is the Knight?” Batyn asked.
Wyndham’s face turned bright red as the older man began to literally shake with fury.
“Evidently not,” Batyn said, quickly climbing out his chair and backing toward the exit.
“Find the Knight,” Wyndham said, his voice a harsh whisper.
“Knight. Got it,” Dallas said.
Batyn was waiting for her in the common area. “What do we do now?” he asked, glancing nervously at the cockpit door.
“Find the Knight,” Dallas replied, heading to the room’s replicator and ordering up a couple of uniforms from the appropriate era. “And if I should HAPPEN to run into Cullers while were at it and ACCIDENTALLY kill him, so be it.”
“Good to know we’re approaching this rationally,” Batyn grumbled just before a uniform hit in the face.
Adrian Cullers approached the door of his quarters, stopping outside and steeling himself for the trials ahead. A weary sigh escaped his lips before he realized one was even coming. He’d left the cabin ages ago to try to meet with Admiral Sulu, but he hadn’t been able to bring himself to come back before now. He just didn’t want to face what was waiting inside. Oh well. He’d delayed the inevitable long enough.
He stepped inside the two bedroom cabin, breathing through his mouth so as to not be assaulted by the odor he knew lay within.
“He spoke to you?” Matilda, the Crazy Condors’ Waltzing Weightlifting Bearded Lady exclaimed, lifting herself off of the living area sofa as quickly as she could, which wasn’t all that fast.
“No,” Cullers replied simply.
“But you were gone for hours.”
Before Cullers could reply, the room was filled with a cacophony of yips as a horde of six poodles poured out of one of the bedrooms on a direct course for Cullers. They quickly surrounded him, all growling as menacingly as a bunch of poodles could.
“Non! Non!” Claude the Poodle Trainer cried, running out of the bedroom. “I am so sorry, Mister Cullers. I do not know why they behave so.”
“I don’t think they like me,” Cullers said.
“But what is not to like?” Claude asked. “Down, my lovelies! Mister Cullers is the reason we’re all together!”
“One big happy family,” Cullers muttered. He really would have been much happier sleeping on the circus’ ship in the docking bay, but Admiral Sulu preferred to have his “associates” close-at- hand (i.e. someplace they could be monitored). So Cullers, Matilda, Claude, and all six poodles had been given one two- bedroom cabin to share. As the only woman, Matilda claimed one of the rooms. Under normal circumstances, as leader, Cullers would have insisted on taking the other room, but Claude’s “lovelies” needed a place all their own. Cullers preferred to have the little beasts corralled in other bedroom, leaving him sleeping on the sofa.
Unfortunately, keeping six dogs in such a confined space led to certain smells, no matter how often Claude took the horde out for walkies. Between the dog odors and the smells wafting off of the slop Matilda ate to keep her figure (old Joegonot recipes, she said), the cabin was almost unbearable.
Having to spend so much time with Matilda and Claude pushed the situation from almost to completely unbearable, hence Cullers spending hours away from the cabin even though he couldn’t get Lieutenant Radley to let him anywhere near Admiral Sulu.
“Did you see Sulu?” Claude asked.
“No,” Matilda replied.
“Did I ask you?”
“Well, he didn’t.”
“Would you care to let him speak?”
The poodles all raised up onto their hind legs. “Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!”
“Non! I did not mean for you to speak!” Claude scolded, wagging his finger at the poodles.
“Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!”
“Quiet! To your beds!”
Cullers ran his hand down his face as the poodles obediently went back to all fours then pranced to their bedroom.
“Are you getting a headache?” Matilda asked. “I can give you a neck rub.”
“With those hands?” Claude said. “You would crush his skull. I will give the neck rub!”
“I can do it!”
“NO ONE is giving me a NECK RUB!” Cullers snapped.
“Are you sure? You sound like you could use one,” Matilda said.
“What about Sulu?”
“How would he know how Sulu is?” Claude demanded. “He already told you he didn’t see him!”
“I just want to know what happened!” Matilda shot back.
“Then ask him, not me!”
“I already did.”
“Then let him speak!”
“Why don’t you?”
“I’m going to kill you both!” Cullers screamed, his voice breaking with mad laughter. “Shut up. Just shut up!”
“You don’t have to be mean about it.”
“Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!”
“Now you have upset, my lovelies,” Claude said disapprovingly as the poodles’ barks carrying through the bedroom door into the living area.
“That’s it! I’m leaving,” Cullers said.
“Wait!” Matilda said. “What about the flocking?”
“The fleet is leaving soon. After that, the base will self destruct.”
“Are we going to Earth with them?” Claude asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then you should ask Admiral Sulu about it.”
Claude took a couple of fearful steps back as Cullers’ eyes locked onto him, blazing with pure hate. “That. Is. What. I. Was. Trying. TO DO!”
“Ah. I see.”
“Goooooood,” Cullers replied. “Bye bye, now.” Before Claude or Matilda could say anything else to aggravate him further, Cullers stormed out of the cabin and back into the corridor. Maybe he could just leave now. Why wait for the self-destruct sequence? Just him, his ship, and open space. He could start a new circus, one without dog acts or bearded women. Now there was an idea.
“So we’re just going to go stroking along through this base and hope no one notices we’re not from around here?” Agent Batyn asked as he and Dallas emerged from their cloaked ship in full uniform and headed toward the exit.
“I’m not stroking anything,” Dallas replied.
“You know what I mean.”
“Look, Batyn. The secret to getting around places like this is to act like you belong. Don’t gawk. Don’t act lost. Just walk determinedly like you’re going somewhere important.” She held up the padd she’d brought along. “This completes the look. If you’re walking determinedly while holding a padd, no one is going to question you because you obviously have to get somewhere with whatever information you’re carrying.”
“That explains why you made me bring this,” Batyn said, glancing down at the padd he was carrying.
“Yep. And I gave us the rank insignias of lieutenant commanders. It’s high enough to keep the lower ranks in line, but low enough that it probably won’t arouse the suspicions of any commanders or captains we might run across.”
“I guess you’ve thought of everything,” Batyn groused.
“You could be happier about it,” Dallas said.
“I haven’t slept in my tank in over a week. When I can slide into a nice pool of warm water instead of one your awful dry beds, then I’ll think about being happy. But don’t count on it!”
“I’ll see you later,” Dallas said suddenly, veering off down a side corridor.
“Wait. Where are you going?” Batyn asked alarmed.
“To find Cullers.”
“Great. What the halibut am I supposed to do?”
“You throw those fish references in just to annoy me, don’t you?” Dallas said.
“Sometimes. But you’re not answering my question. What am I supposed to do?”
“Find the Knight,” Dallas said, striding away. “I’ll be somewhere pummeling Cullers.”
“I hope he lets Matilda sit on you!” Batyn called after her. Dallas didn’t respond. She was too busy walking determinedly with her padd.
“Wonderful,” Batyn muttered. How was he supposed to find this Knight? He didn’t even know where to begin. Rather than stand around looking confused, though, he decided he’d follow his partner’s advice for once and walk somewhere while he thought.
Okay. If Dallas was a rook and the circus folks were pawns, the knight was probably a person. Assuming that Wyndham wasn’t completely insane (which admittedly was a large assumption), this knight must be fairly easy to locate; otherwise, Wyndham would have given them more to work with.
Seeing a Next Federation officer heading his way with simpler rank insignia than he had (which hopefully meant the officer was lower in rank), Batyn decided to try the direct approach.
“Have you seen Knight?” Batyn asked, trying to sound as official and commanding as possible as he straightened up to his full height, which was a good 20 centimeters above the Benzite Next Federation officer.
“We were just dismissed from the command center, sir,” the officer replied quickly. He was obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. “I believe she was heading toward the mess before we evacuate.”
“Thank you,” Batyn said with a curt nod, then strode off down the corridor without looking back. Hmmm…maybe there was something to Dallas’ method after all. The mention of an evacuation concerned him, though. If the Next Federation people were leaving, that could mean that Wyndham was very right about the Condors flocking soon.
If she could find the rest of the circus, she would find Cullers. Granted, there were some risks to trying to take on all of the Crazy Condors at once, but that’s what phasers were for. Of course, finding the circus could be difficult in itself.
Could be unless you knew what to look for, and Dallas knew exactly what to look for:
Fortunately, Dallas had been able to find a communal restroom off of one of the main corridors, which gave her the opportunity to claim a stall and pull out her tricorder.
Covering the sounds of her tricorder scan was another matter entirely, but Dallas was prepared to do what she had to do. And let’s just say that what she had to do involved the generation of several loud, unpleasant sounds, and leave it at that, okay?
Anyway, the audio cover gave Dallas enough time to detect a small cluster of canine biosigns in a set of quarters one level above her. After completing her business (you have to take these opportunities when you get them), Dallas headed out of the restroom and made her way to the nearest turbolift.
She was soon standing outside of the cabin indicated by her tricorder, holding her hand phaser behind her padd as she waited impatiently for someone to answer the door chime.
Hopefully, that someone would be Cullers.
Instead, Claude the Poodle Trainer stood before her, his face scowling with annoyance.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
“Just a friendly chat,” Dallas said, moving the padd aside and jabbing the phaser into Claude’s chest. Claude’s eyes darted from the phaser to the face of the woman in front of him.
“Wait. I know…Dallas!”
“Ding ding ding!” she said, backing Claude into the cabin as the doors slid shut behind her. “Give the man a crepe.”
Matilda emerged from the cabin’s small dining area, spooning a gloppy brown substance from a massive bowl into her equally massive gullet. “Claude,” she mumbled past the food in her mouth. “Who…”
“Thanks for the dinner invite, but I’m really not hungry,” Dallas said, shoving Claude down on the sofa and waving with her phaser for Matilda to join them. “Where’s your boss?”
“Out,” Claude said.
“Why should we tell you?”
“Because you don’t want me to put any additional holes in your head.”
“You won’t shoot,” Matilda said confidently. “There are hundreds of Next Federation officers on this asteroid. You shoot us; they kill you.”
“Not if I kill you both, then beam away before anyone gets here,” Dallas replied with an evil grin.
“Impossible. There are hundreds of ships out there.”
“Then how am I standing here now?”
“She has a point,” Claude admitted.
“That I do,” Dallas said. “Now then, we’re all just going to sit quietly until Cullers gets here.”
The doors suddenly whooshed open, and Cullers stormed inside angrily.
“Which is right about now,” Dallas finished.
“Listen up, you two,” Cullers began, oblivious to the woman with a phaser. “I’ve had enough of…” He finally spotted the uniformed Dallas. “What did you two do now? If the admiral kicks us out of…” Why was the Next Federation woman with the phaser smiling? And why was she now aiming it at him?
“Surprise! You’re under arrest.”
Cullers quickly recovered himself. “Don’t be ridiculous. You’ll never get me off of this base.”
Dallas pretended to be in deep thought for a moment. “You know what? You’re right! I’ll just have to kill you here!”
“He walked right into that one,” Claude said to Matilda.
“No kidding. I’m kind of surprised.”
“Why? She’s a tricky one.”
“Well, so is he.”
“I think he might be slipping a bit, though. He’s seemed stressed lately.”
“I noticed that,” Matilda said. “I wonder what his problem is. The old Cullers seemed so much more together.”
“I’m still together!” Cullers shouted.
“Sure,” Matilda said unconvincingly.
“Could you two shut up?” Dallas said. “Please!”
“Go!” Cullers shouted suddenly, diving at Dallas.
“Fifis!” Claude screamed. The door to one of the bedrooms slid open, sending the Fifi Brigade pouring into the room and straight at Dallas and Cullers. “Sic her! Sic her!” Claude continued, leaping behind the sofa for cover as Matilda pulled herself up.
Dallas managed to leap back and avoid Cullers’ initial attack, but with the dogs and Matilda closing in from different angles, she quickly found herself in deep trouble.
“Back!” Dallas cried, firing at the charging poodles, nailing one as Matilda latched a meaty hand onto her firing arm. “Get off,” Dallas shouted, twisting in Matilda’s grip and firing again. The angle was bad, so the shot only grazed the huge woman’s gut. She grunted, but refused to let go as Cullers grabbed onto Dallas’ leg.
One shove from Matilda later, Dallas was toppling backward to the ground with Matilda looming over her. The last thing she heard before Matilda’s fist connected with her head was Cullers’ voice.
“Claude, get these damn dogs off of me!”
Agent Batyn ran across the mess hall more by luck than anything else. As it was, he seemed to be moving against the flow of traffic as several Next Federation officers pushed past him, presumably on their way to evacuate. There was no real reason to believe that this Knight, whoever she was, would still be in the mess hall, but it was all he had to work with at the moment.
Batyn stepped into the large, table-filled room and found that it was deserted except for two people. One was the mess hall attendant, who was pacing nervously in front of the bank of replicators near the entrance. The other was a young, blond-haired woman seated at a table where she seemed to be randomly pushing a meatball back and forth through some puddles of tomato sauce on her plate.
“Is that Knight?” Batyn asked the attendant.
“Yes…Hey! Who are you? I haven’t seen you around here before.”
“I’ve been on Condor - 42. Engineering detail.”
“Oh. That would explain…”
“Excuse me?” the attendant said.
“Wouldn’t you rather be evacuating?”
“Then go. I’ll see to Knight.”
“All right. It’s not like I have to worry about cleaning the place up anyway. It’s just going to be debris in a little while.” The attendant made a hasty departure, which fortunately made him miss Batyn’s eyes bulging at the mention of “debris.” It didn’t take a crack investigating mind to figure out that this evacuation would be closely followed by a rather large explosion.
With a renewed sense of urgency, Batyn approached the woman at the table. “Excuse, ma’am. Are you Knight?”
“Yes,” she said eagerly. “You’re the fish!”
“I’m guessing you’ve heard of me.”
“Uncle’s last message said something about a rook and a fish.”
“Earl Wyndham is your uncle?”
“Yes. Helen Knight,” she said, extending her hand to Batyn. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“Don’t mention it,” Batyn said. “Wyndham didn’t really give us much in the way of a plan, but I’m guessing I’m supposed to get you back to our ship.”
“Admiral Sulu is about to launch the Condor fleet towards Earth,” Knight said.
“Admiral Sulu? Like a Starfleet admiral?”
“Yes. Hitori Sulu. He’s like the great great nephew of Hikaru Sulu or something. He’s the one trying to overthrown the Federation. Uncle convinced me to infiltrate the Condors and feed him information, but he wanted to get me away from here before the fleet launched and I was forced to go along. The admiral cut all outside communication a couple of weeks ago, though. I was able to tell Uncle Earl when the attack was scheduled, but we weren’t able to completely arrange my escape. He just told me he’d get the rook and fish while the antidote did its work.”
“He’s big with the cryptic speak, isn’t he?”
“Frankly, I think he might be a little unstable. Don’t tell him I said that, though.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Batyn said. “Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to get you out of here before we all go boom.”
“What about the rook?” Knight asked as the pair made their way to the exit.
“What about her?” Batyn replied.
“Where is she?”
“Probably assaulting some circus performers.”
“The Crazy Condors? She went in there alone? Do you think she’s all right?” Knight asked concerned.
“No. She’s probably been captured or killed by this point. Serves her right for running off by herself.”
“I know where their cabin is. Should we go help her? I think we have a few minutes before Sulu sets off the self-destruct sequence.”
“Really? A few minutes?”
“Now we have to go help her!” Batyn snapped.
“Um…do you and this rook actually get along?”
“Is that a good thing?”
If she hadn’t been tied to a chair at that particular moment, Dallas probably could have made her escape from the Crazy Condors’ cabin without them even noticing. They were far too busy racing around packing up their belongings in preparation for the forthcoming evacuation.
Instead, every so often as a Crazy Condor got in range, Dallas would try to kick him or her, straining against the dog leash Claude had used to bind her hands behind the chair.
“This time would be far better spent making peace with yourself,” Cullers said as Dallas’ foot missed his knee by a matter of centimeters.
“When I get out of here…”
“You’re NOT getting out of here,” Cullers interrupted. “In a few minutes, this whole place is going to explode, thankfully taking you with it, while we’re on our way to Earth with the Next Federation fleet.”
Dallas started laughing. “This admiral of yours is taking a fleet to Earth? Is he nuts? You won’t even get close.”
“Not if no one sees him coming.”
“Those ships have cloaks?”
“Nothing so obvious,” Cullers said smugly. “With cloaking devices on that many ships, they would cause a major distortion in any sensors they passed. No, the Condor King has a much more elegant solution. Subspace generators.”
“Never heard of them,” Dallas said.
“You should know them well,” Cullers said, a hint of anger slipping into his voice. “You intruded in our efforts to obtain one on Waystation. The Condor King was able to obtain the technology from…other sources.”
“What does it do?”
“It creates a pocket of subspace capable of holding an object, such as a starship, for an indefinite period of time. As we speak, the Next Federation fleet is being stored in hundreds of subspace pockets created by generators mounted along the hull of a simple freighter. So you see, no one will know that we’re coming until we’re already there.”
Dallas glared at him silently.
“Oh come on, Dallas. This is the part where you say ‘You’ll never get away with this.’”
“Go to hell, Cullers.”
“I’m sorry, Samantha. That seems to be your travel itinerary. Is everyone ready?”
“Oui oui,” Claude said nodding, his poodles standing in an orderly line behind him as Matilda hoisted up her large suitcase.
“Very good,” Cullers said, grabbing his own two attache cases. “Farewell, Dallas. If it’s any consolation to you, I’m sure I’ll remember you in my nightmares.”
Cullers opened the cabin door and found himself face-to-face with a giant fish. “About time you opened up,” Batyn said, pushing Cullers back into the room as he and Helen Knight stepped inside. “What did I tell you?” he continued, covering the Crazy Condors with his phaser. “She got captured.”
“Then it’s a good thing we came,” Knight said.
“Uh…sure,” Batyn replied, moving to untie Dallas.
“I know you,” Cullers said, his gaze locked on Knight. “You’re one of us! How could you betray us like this?”
“What? You mean betray you before you betray the Federation?” Knight said.
“Admiral Sulu doesn’t like traitors.”
“He doesn’t seem too fond of you either,” Knight replied.
“That’s not true.”
“Then why didn’t he take you with him? He’s already left, and this place is due to blow up any minute now.”
“We’ll see about that!” Cullers exclaimed, dropping his cases in a huff. In a blur of motion, he reached into his pocket and yanked out the phaser he’d taken from Dallas.
“Batyn!” Knight screamed as Cullers spun toward the Antidean and Dallas. Dallas, now free from the chair, tackled her partner a split second before a phaser blast ripped above their heads. Batyn raised his arm to fire back, but Cullers was already on the move. He grabbed Knight, pressing the phaser up against her skull.
“Keep them here!” Cullers ordered Claude and Matilda as he dragged Knight out into the corridor. Dallas and Batyn scrambled to their feet as Matilda and Claude closed in.
“I’ve got the phaser here,” Batyn said. “Just back off.”
“You won’t have time to shoot us both,” Matilda threatened.
“He won’t have to,” Dallas replied, lowering herself into a fighting stance.
“We really don’t have time for this,” Batyn said.
“I always have time to pummel the likes of you,” Matilda replied.
“This place is going to blow up any minute now. There’s almost no one left on board except us. I don’t know long we have, but I’m guessing it’s not long.”
“Cullers abandoned you,” Dallas said. “He’s going to leave you here to die while he tries to take our friend there…”
“Helen Knight,” Batyn said.
“That’s her name.”
“Knight. Cute. Anyway, he’s going to take Knight to your Condor King…”
“Admiral Sulu,” Batyn said.
“What?” Dallas demanded.
“The Condor King is Admiral Hitori Sulu.”
“Okay. Fine. He’s going to take her to Admiral Sulu to get back in his good graces while we all die!”
“He wouldn’t,” Claude said.
“We’re his friends,” Matilda said. “We’re a troupe!”
“Tell him that,” Batyn replied.
Matilda and Claude exchanged a worried glance, then suddenly Matilda tossed her luggage at Dallas and Batyn, knocking the pair of agents back to the floor as the bearded lady, the poodle trainer, and his Fifi Brigade made a break for the exit. Dallas and Batyn got back to their feet moments later and charged off in pursuit.
Admiral Earl Wyndham rubbed his hands together nervously as he paced the docking bay of the Condor’s Nest. He’d been able to take his rooks this far, but now everything rested in their hands. He wasn’t sure how they would stop the Condor King, but he believed that somehow they would. Rook Two had her fierce determination, and Rook One…well, Rook One seemed to have a way to getting things done in ways no one would expect.
Right now, though, Wyndham’s big concern was his Knight. If Rook Two and the fish did not return soon, he would be forced to flee before the Nest was destroyed.
His patience was soon rewarded as his niece, Helen, entered the docking bay. What Wyndham wasn’t prepared for was the armed Adrian Cullers who stepped in behind her.
“Uncle!” Knight exclaimed.
“You again!” Cullers said, recognizing Wyndham from their brief run-in a week earlier in the Cardassian Sector.
“Release my Knight, foul knave!” Wyndham shouted. “Your Condors have flocked without you. The Nest is soon to be ablaze. Abandon your evils and cower before the…”
“Oh, shut up!” Cullers snapped, firing his weapon. The stun blast sent Wyndham collapsing to the deck unconscious.
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. SELF-DESTRUCT IN 75 SECONDS,” a computer voice boomed.
“Get in there,” Cullers ordered, shoving Knight into the Crazy Condors’ ship.
“How can someone that big move that fast?” Agent Dallas asked as she and Batyn tore down the corridor toward the docking bay with Claude, Matilda, and the poodles running just a bit ahead of them. Actually, considering that Dallas and Batyn had to wait for the next turbolift car to get down to this level, they should have considered themselves lucky to be this close to their quarry.
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. SELF-DESTRUCT IN 75 SECONDS,” a computer voice boomed.
Dallas glanced to the side as the they passed an intersection and saw three other people running in their direction, a man and a woman in civilian garb and another man in a modern Starfleet uniform. At least they weren’t the only ones still stuck on this death trap.
“Fish guy!” the man in civilian clothes shouted, pointing at Batyn just as he and Dallas headed off down the corridor.
“Fish guy. Real original,” Batyn groused.
“Well, you are,” Dallas said.
“Oh yeah? How would you like it if I started calling you Monkey Girl?”
“Considering some of the other things you’ve called me, that might actually be an improvement.”
“Fine. Monkey girl it is then,” Batyn said.
“I was kidding.”
“You’d run faster if you didn’t talk.”
“Same to you.”
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. SELF-DESTRUCT IN 60 SECONDS.”
By the time the countdown hit forty-five seconds, Dallas and Batyn had raced into the docking bay to find Earl Wyndham sprawled out on the deck unconscious while Claude and Matilda frantically pounded on the closed hatch to the Crazy Condors’ vessel.
“Mister Cullers! Adrian!” Matilda pleaded as the ship slowly powered up. “Please take us with you!”
“I don’t think he’s listening,” Dallas said as Batyn saw to Wyndham.
Just then, the two muscle-bound Vulcans stumbled into the docking bay, rubbing their heads and generally looking dazed. They completely ignored the strange assortment of people standing around and headed straight into their own vessel.
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. SELF-DESTRUCT IN 30 SECONDS.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Dallas said, slapping her hand at the empty air until she felt the cold metal of their cloaked ship’s hull. “Get Wyndham aboard.”
“Where’s the hatch?” Batyn asked.
“Working on it,” Dallas said, working her way around the ship.
Dallas finally disappeared into the cloaked ship. A moment later, the ship shimmered into existence. Batyn was already dragging Wyndham toward the hatch as Claude and Matilda looked back and forth from the Crazy Condors’ ship to the new vessel that had just presented itself.
“EVACUATE. EVACUATE. SELF-DESTRUCT IN 15 SECONDS.”
The decision was taken out of their hands as Cullers lifted off, speeding through the open docking bay doors and the force field that was holding in the bay’s atmosphere. He was almost immediately followed by the Vulcans’ ship.
“Are you two coming or not?” Batyn demanded, sticking his head out of the hatch.
“You mean it?”
“Do you want to die?”
“NOOO!!!” Claude and Matilda screamed, charging up the ramp, poodles close behind. Batyn just managed to close the hatch as Dallas propelled the ship out of the docking bay and out into the open space of the asteroid ring as fast as she could get the ship to move.
Moments later, the ship lurched forward, buffeted by the shockwave emanating from the self-destructing Condor’s Nest.
“You saved us!” Claude said.
“Nice of me, wasn’t it?” Batyn said, drawing his phaser and stunning them both. “Now do me a favor and stay asleep.”
“Yip! Yip! Yip! Yip!” the poodles barked, circling their fallen master.
“I’m starting to get why Dallas blew the last bunch of you up,” Batyn grumbled, heading into the cockpit where Dallas was just steering them toward the edge of the asteroid ring. Batyn checked the sensors and saw an Excelsior-class starship chasing what appeared to be a shuttle and a runabout. “Is that the same ship that was chasing Wyndham?” Batyn asked, sliding into the co- pilot’s seat.
“Got me. They all look alike,” Dallas said, her attention focused on the console in front of her. The Vulcans’ ship had headed off one way while Cullers was speeding in the general direction of Earth. Guess who Dallas was following?
Batyn’s eyes were pulled away from the sensors as something thudded against the back of his chair. Suddenly, Admiral Wyndham spun him around and practically landed in his lap.
“Helen,” he said weakly, obviously still dazed from the effect of the stun blast he’d suffered earlier.
“We know,” Dallas said curtly. “Cullers has her.”
“Magretha!” Wyndham said more insistently.
“We didn’t meet a Magretha,” Dallas replied. “Why don’t you go lay down or something?”
“It’s a star system,” Batyn said.
“You want us to go to Magretha?” Batyn asked, pulling up the coordinates on his console. The system was nearby, but not in the direction they were currently heading.
“But Cullers isn’t going that way,” Dallas said.
“Starfleet,” Wyndham said, trying to shake off the stun blast.
“Magretha is kind of an out of the way system,” Batyn said, looking over the computer’s information on Magretha.
“The padd!” Dallas exclaimed suddenly, leaping up from her chair.
“What?” Batyn demanded.
“There’s something about Magretha in one of the padds in the back,” Dallas said. “Keep on Cullers. I’ll be right back.”
“Fine,” Batyn said, handing Dallas his phaser. “Check on Claude and Matilda while you’re at it.” Dallas disappeared into the common area as Batyn helped Wyndham into the co-pilot’s seat while he slipped into the pilot’s chair.
Several thuds and a couple of crashes sounded from the common area, followed by an angry shout of “Where is it?”, which was immediately followed by a chorus of yips.
“Yip! Yip! Yip!”
“Yip! Yip! Yip!”
ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!
“There,” Dallas said, re-entering the cockpit with a padd a few moments later. “I knew it was back there.”
“Uh huh,” Batyn said. “So what does it say?”
“The first, forth, and eighth fleets are supposed to be in the Magretha system right now for maneuvers.”
Wyndham nodded. “That’s why the Condor King went now. Less of a Starfleet presence at the core worlds. Plus, he could lead his flock within striking distance of them without Starfleet knowing the danger that was passing them by. The Condor King is a master player, but he neglected this game. And now my rooks will put him in check.”
“You’ve got to get to Magretha and warn the fleet,” Dallas said to Batyn.
“Unless you plan on disembarking, you’re part of that you,” Batyn replied.
“I’m disembarking,” Dallas said. “You’re beaming me onto Cullers’ ship.”
“Rescue the Knight,” Wyndham said.
“I promise,” Dallas said, then headed to the transporter alcove by way of the common area.
ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! ZAP!
“As soon as she’s gone, remind me to go back there and tie everyone up,” Batyn said.
“Excellent! Bind the Condors before they can again take wing and nip us with their sharpened beaks!” Wyndham replied.
Dallas was gaining on him! Damn her for having a cloaked ship sitting in that docking bay! How was Cullers supposed to make his escape from her when she kept escaping from him? Next time, he wouldn’t be so nice. No more asking someone else to kill her. No more waiting around. Next time, he would just shoot her and be done with it.
But at this point, that wouldn’t be satisfying. No. If he ever got the chance, Cullers was going to make her suffer. She would pay in pain! Wow, that sounded over-dramatic. Oh well. He was a ringmaster at heart. Drama went with the territory.
His mind was busy envisioning various ways to break Dallas’ bones when he noticed a soft hum at the edge of his hearing. It took him just a moment longer to recognize it as the hum of a transporter. He scooped up the phaser he’d taken from Dallas earlier that day and raced out into the common area where Helen Knight lay bound on a sofa just as the transporter sequence finished.
Now was his chance. Samantha Dallas was standing before him, phaser drawn.
“You really cannot keep pursuing me like this, Miss Dallas. It’s unseemly,” Cullers said as the two adversaries kept their weapons trained on each other.
“What can I say? I want your body.”
“I have a few things I’d like to do to yours as well,” Cullers said. “I have a proposal for you, my dear Samantha. Let’s put these weapons aside and settle this the way we both want to. I’ll even go first.” Cullers tossed his phaser onto the nearby table and balled up his fists. Pummeling Dallas from one end of the ship to the other then delivering her bloodied body to Admiral Sulu would be better than any therapy he could imagine.
“You’re on,” Dallas said, tossing her phaser onto the table beside Cullers’ and crouching into her fighting stance.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, Dallas. My fists are going to…”
Dallas’ fist slammed into Cullers’ jaw with a force unlike anything he had ever felt, but then that was kind of the problem. Cullers had never been in a fist fight in his life. He hit the deck a second later completely unconscious.
Dallas stood back from her fallen opponent warily, expecting a trick. When nothing happened, she kicked him a couple of times, just to be sure.
“That’s it?” she demanded disappointed. “One punch!” She moved over to Knight, untying and ungagging the woman. “I can’t believe he just fell over like that,” Dallas continued.
“Me either,” Knight said, rubbing her wrists. “If I’d known, I would have hit him and saved you the trouble.”
Dallas looked down at the insensate ringmaster. “Oh, it was no trouble. Actually, I could have handled a bit more trouble. Now I’m just…frustrated! I wanted to beat him up!”
“You still can hit him a few times,” Knight said as she started to bind Cullers arms and legs. “I won’t tell anyone.”
The Starfleet Intel agent pondered the idea for a moment. “Nah,” she said finally. “That just wouldn’t be any fun.”
“Investigation Log. Stardate 54000.4. After securing Cullers, Lieutenant Knight and I decided to continue on the course Cullers had set, which would presumably take us to Admiral Sulu’s freighter full of starships. Before we could reach the freighter, though, we were overtaken by the combined forces of Starfleet’s first, fourth, and eighth fleets. The Crazy Condors’ ship has been taken aboard the USS Truman, currently under the command of Admiral Edward Cooper, who was overseeing the fleet maneuvers in the Magretha system. Adrian Cullers is now in the brig where Claude and Matilda were already waiting for him. The poodles are presumably somewhere as well. Hopefully in the next cell. Little monsters.
“Admiral Cooper has asked Admiral Wyndham to join him on the bridge as they attempt to stop the Condor fleet. Helen Knight is being debriefed concerning her time with the Next Federation. As for Batyn and I…we’re pretty much not doing a thing.”
“I feel like we should be up there,” Agent Dallas said, peering out the viewport of the guest quarters she’d been given on the Truman as the ship streaked ahead at high warp. “Wyndham wouldn’t have gotten this far without us.”
“Yes, but Wyndham has the rank,” Batyn said, enjoying the feel of the plush chair in which he’d planted himself. It wasn’t quite a nice warm tank, but it would do. Overall, he had to admit that these Sovereign-class ships were pretty nice.
“What rank? The man’s AWOL and insane,” Dallas said. “I’m almost surprised Cooper even listened to him.”
“They’re evidently old friends,” Batyn replied. “But I still had to give Cooper the nut-job to English translation. I had him convinced by the time Claude and Matilda came to. Then they started babbling everything they knew, which just cemented things. Most of it was them ranting against Cullers for leaving them behind, but they had enough real information that Cooper was ready to send in the cavalry.”
“Let’s just hope we’re in time,” Dallas said. “Who knows how far Sulu could have gotten by now?”
“Not too far,” Batyn said.
“How do you know?”
“We’re coming out of warp.”
Dallas turned back to the viewport, which gave a great view out of the front of the Truman’s saucer, as the stars shifted from streaks to pinpoints. Up ahead, Sulu’s freighter was drifting, surrounded by several starships with more emerging from their subspace pockets all the time. Just beyond them, an Excelsior-class starship sat monitoring the action.
“Is that Rook One’s ship again?” Batyn asked in disbelief. “He really gets around.”
“Remind me to find out who he is at some point,” Dallas said.
“I’ll do that…assuming of course that we aren’t about to be killed in a massive firefight.”
There was no fight. Seeing themselves hopelessly outnumbered, the Next Federation ships surrendered without firing a shot, and, despite the lack of action, Dallas wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.
EARTH STARFLEET INTELLIGENCE HQ
“I never thought I’d be glad to see this place again,” Agent Batyn said as he and Dallas walked through the corridors of the Starfleet Intel Headquarters building in Moscow. Starfleet had been busy dealing with the processing of the ships and officers of the Next Federation, so Dallas and Batyn had been forced to catch a civilian transport from Waystation to the Cardassian Sector, where they had left the Runabout Pee Dee. Once back on the Pee Dee, Batyn had immediately retreated to the sanctity and comfort of his own tank, but now he was more than happy to not be on a spaceship of any kind. He’d had quite enough for a while.
“It does feel good, doesn’t it?” Dallas replied with a smile.
“It should to you. We helped break a conspiracy to overthrow the Federation, everything you’ve been saying for the last couple of years turned out to be true, and you’ve been completely vindicated.”
“I have, haven’t I? Now if we could only figure out where that bastard Sulu is. I still can’t believe he escaped.”
“There was a lot going on and a lot of ships flying around. It was easy to miss one runabout. Starfleet will find him,” Batyn said.
“They’d better. Or I will,” Dallas replied as she and Batyn stepped into the outer office of their superior, Admiral Gitt, ignoring his secretary as they headed toward his office door.
“You know how I hate loose ends,” Dallas continued.
“I’m not real big on them either,” Batyn said.
“Then let’s wrap up this one.”
Inside the office, Admiral Gitt was bordering on a nervous wreck. The Condor fleet was gone, Admiral Sulu had gone into hiding, and the Next Federation was a complete failure. At least Gitt had stayed on Earth instead of joining the others at the Condor’s Nest. Only Sulu knew of Gitt’s involvement at all. His job had been to keep Starfleet Intel away from the Next Federation, a task at which he’d evidently failed. This was all Dallas and Batyn’s fault. He’d avenge Sulu somehow, though. Maybe he could find them even worse cases to investigate. He’d make their lives miserable until he could find a way to get them killed in the line of duty.
The Benzite admiral almost jumped out of his desk chair as the two agents he’d just sworn death to charged into his office, phasers drawn.
“Morning, Admiral,” Dallas said. “You’re under arrest.”
So much for that revenge thing.