Author: Alan Decker
STAR TRAKS: THE TRAKS FILES
“Rook Pursues Pawn; Fish Consumes Prawn”
A SPACESHIP SOMEWHERE IN THE ALPHA QUADRANT
“The pieces are moving into place, but not the way the King of Condors thinks,” Admiral Earl Wyndham (currently AWOL from Starfleet and presumed dead) mumbled to himself as the small star yacht he’d obtained slid smoothly through the void on a course in the general direction of nowhere.
Almost seven years had passed since Wyndham had retreated to the shadows to monitor the King of the Condors. At first the King’s moves had been subtle, attempting to rely on the actions and incompetence of others to win the game for him. But the Incompetents didn’t play the King’s way. They didn’t know the King’s rules for they had no knowledge that the King existed at all, much less the Condors.
Wyndham had tried a direct warning once, leading the first Captain Incompetent directly to a key part of the King’s realm, but Wyndham had misplayed the game there, forcing him to flee.
All was well for a time thereafter as the King of Condors watched the poison of the Incompetents fail utterly. But in the last several months, something had changed. Now the Condor King had altered tactics, moving his plans forward in a new, more aggressive way. His overall course remained the same, though.
Wyndham cackled, “He’s still playing King of the Mountain, but the game’s changed to chess, and I’m the one holding all the rooks. A castling I will go. A castling I will go. Hi ho smash a condor-O, a castling I will go.”
Wyndham continued his random alterations of his ship’s course with his left hand, while his right effortless typed a message into the comm system.
“Rook One is in play but doesn’t know. He doesn’t know doesn’t know doesn’t know-o-li-O, but the antidote’s got to go to and fro and stop the condor show. But Rook Two…”
Wyndham laughed a soft lingering laugh that threatened to take over his entire body in that special way reserved for those performing a tightrope act over the abyss of insanity.
“Rook Two’s on holiday, but that needs to end. No more rest for the Rook. Some of the Condor King’s naughty pawns are on the loose and being very VERY naughty. They’re hidden pawns, though. And it takes a special Rook to see them. But first I must see to my Rook.”
Admiral Wyndham hit transmit, sending his message off to the one place he should probably have been living: the Tantalus V Psychiatric Rehabilitation Facility.
“Oh, I do hope she brings the fish.”
FEDERATION PSYCHIATRIC REHABILITATION FACILITY TANTALUS V
“Excuse me?” Samantha Dallas stammered, completely caught off-guard by the words that had just come out of Dr. Kevin Warren’s mouth. Dallas staggered slightly, then slumped into the chair across from Dr. Warren’s desk.
The Tantalus V Chief Administrator smiled slightly. “I think that’s the most human I’ve seen you behave, Samantha. It’s nice to know that something gets through those barriers every once in a while.”
“Forget that,” Dallas snapped, recovering her wits. “You said I can leave.”
“It’s against my better judgment,” Warren said. “Frankly, I haven’t seen anything in the last eighteen months you’ve been with us to indicate that your condition has improved in the least.”
“I never had a condition.”
“My point exactly. You’ve been in complete denial ever since Starfleet Intelligence sent you to us. Instead you continue to live in the fantasy world you’ve built inside your head full of evil circuses and invisible hair stylists.”
“What about the Flarn? I didn’t make them up!” Dallas insisted.
“And no one was more surprised by that than me,” Warren said. “But it’s a moot point now. The Admiralty’s orders are quite clear. As of this moment, you may decide to no longer reside here.”
“Reside here? Nice way of putting it,” Dallas said.
“I believe we made you quite comfortable.”
“Except for the whole not being allowed to leave thing.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any point in asking if you’d like to act in your own best interests and remain under our care, Samantha.”
“That’s Agent Dallas to you, Doctor,” she replied, rising from her chair. “And I’ll be taking the first available transport, thank you very much.”
EARTH STARFLEET INTELLIGENCE KANTELOV ANNEX - SIBERIA
The phrase “long winter’s nap” took on a whole new meaning when you spent your life in a place where it was winter pretty much all year long, not that Agent Batyn minded. For the last eighteen months, his life had been quite comfortable indeed. Wake up in his quarters in the Spacedock, get ready for work, beam down to the office, lounge around until quitting time, then beam back home for a relaxing dinner in front of the holovision before settling into his tank for a good night’s float.
For some reason, cases fitting under Batyn’s job purview seemed to dry up almost completely after his partner, Agent Dallas, was committed to Tantalus V. Of course, the fact that she was a lunatic who went around actively looking for weird cases to solve probably had something to do with it.
The average person might think that boredom would set in after eighteen months of inactivity, but it suited Batyn just fine. He’d never asked to be an active field agent again anyway. Starfleet Intel had chained him with Dallas, but now that she was gone, Batyn saw no need to push things. He’d be quite happy to coast through his days until he was eligible to collect the maximum retirement benefits package in another twenty years.
Batyn was deep enough into his mid-morning snooze that he didn’t hear the door of the makeshift office slide open. To someone unfamiliar with the place, it wouldn’t have seemed like much of an office anyway. Dallas and Batyn had been given space in the Kantelov Annex, which was primarily used to store evidence and relics for various cases throughout the history of Starfleet Intelligence. No one ever visited there, which was exactly why Admiral Gitt had assigned the place to Dallas and Batyn, and now just Batyn.
For his part, Batyn had tried to make the place as comfortable as possible, even going so far as to bring in a tank for use during his naps and a small culture pool for fresh algae.
Batyn was inside this tank snoozing as the intruder to his tranquility charged into the office.
A voice invaded his dream, piercing the peace of the waters around him as the Antidean swam effortlessly through a shrimp-filled dream sea, opening his mouth at will and sucking in dozens of the tasty snacks.
Batyn’s eyes focused on the shrimp hovering directly in front of his face.
“BATYN!” the little shrimp screamed shrilly.
“Don’t talk when you’re filling my mouth,” Batyn replied in his dream, swallowing the shrimp in one gulp.
“BATYN!” the other shrimp around him screamed.
“Hey…” Batyn bolted upright in the tank, suddenly awake. He immediately became aware of a figure standing in front of him, hands on its hips in a posture that could only be described as annoyed.
His vision cleared, and Batyn immediately wished that it hadn’t.
“What the hell are you doing?” Samantha Dallas demanded.
“Nice to see you, too,” Batyn grumbled climbing wearily out of his tank, stepping through the drying arch nearby, and tossing himself into the chair behind his desk. He stiffened, his eyes quickly becoming more alert as he remembered that his partner was also a mental patient. “Um…so…how did you get out of Tantalus?”
“I was released,” Dallas said, heading over to her own, now-dust-covered, desk and activating the desk terminal.
“By someone else?”
“It’s official, okay?” Dallas snapped back, pulling a small padd out of her shoulder pack and tossing it to Batyn, who caught it in his long, scaly fingers.
“The Admiralty? I guess it doesn’t get much more official than that. How long ago did you leave Tantalus?”
“Two days. I came straight here.”
“Straight? So no one else knows…”
“Just you. I wanted to see what’s been going on around here before I made my presence known.” Dallas noticed a small box resting on top of the piles of dust on her desk. It was clean, indicating it hadn’t been there very long. “What’s this?”
“A package. It came for you yesterday. I guess I should have figured out that meant you were coming back,” Batyn said.
Dallas unsealed the box and reached in for the contents, a single padd. “Any idea who sent this?” she asked.
“Do I really care?”
“You’re missing the point. No one knows I’m out except for you, me, a couple of people at Tantalus V, and whatever Admiral authorized my release.”
“Maybe it’s a welcome home gift,” Batyn said distractedly, leaning back in his chair to see if he could salvage anything of his nap.
Dallas activated the padd, revealing a small version of an ad display, such as would be shown on a concourse monitor in a pedestrian shopping district or mall.
ONE NIGHT ONLY!!!
The Very Best Acts of
The Crazy Condor Circus
LIVE!!! AND FREE!!!
“Someone else knows,” Dallas said, a smile spreading across her face. And whoever it was wanted her to go to Waystation, a Federation space station located just inside the Beta Quadrant. Starfleet had established the station a few years ago after running into a xenophobic race called the Multeks during early exploration of the region. Faced with this threat to their plans to colonize the Beta Quadrant, Starfleet hastily threw together an outpost, grabbed officers from wherever they could to man it, then stuck it within striking distance of the Multek Enclave. Dallas and Batyn had actually visited the station a couple of years earlier and were promptly arrested for disturbing the peace while trying to warn the crew about a possible attack by the Flarn, a species of human-eating lizard beings. Soon after Dallas and Batyn left, Waystation was renovated to deal with increased traffic from freighters and colony ships. Unfortunately for them, the station was indeed attacked by the Flarn with the renovations complete except for the weapons and defensive systems. The station escaped destruction, though, and now spanned 100 decks and had become almost a compulsory stop for ships on their way to the Beta Quadrant.
“I thought we’d already established that,” Batyn replied. “Other people know you’re out. Big deal.”
“Not that,” Dallas said, tossing the padd roughly into the lap of the Antidean. Batyn glared at his partner as he picked up the padd and read it.
“Oh no. No no no. Those people are why you ended up in Tantalus in the first place…well that and the fact that you’re a psycho, but…”
“Don’t you see? Someone else knows about the circus. Someone is helping us.”
“I think the word you’re looking for is manipulating, and there isn’t any ‘us’ happening here.”
“What if I could prove to you that The Crazy Condor Circus was up to no good, that they’re working for someone with evil intentions?” Dallas asked.
“Then I’d say prove it,” Batyn replied.
“Come to Waystation with me.”
“I’d prefer to see the proof here.”
“All right!” he said, standing up and taking a nice, slow stretch. “I’ll go, but if they try to send you back to Tantalus V, I’m saying you took me hostage. Why do you want me along anyway? I can’t stand you, and you feel the same way about me.”
Dallas looked back at him for a long moment. “No,” she said finally. “But I trust you.”
Batyn was slightly taken aback by this and by Dallas’ earnestness. “Thank you,” he said, grinning a bit.
“Besides, you’re too much of a pain in the ass to be in anybody’s conspiracy,” Dallas added with a smirk as the pair headed out of the office toward the hangar where their runabout was stored.
WAYSTATION STARFLEET SQUARE MALL FOOD COURT
“I’ve got to say, Dallas…” MUNCH MUNCH CRUNCH GULP. “…Tantalus must have…” CRUNCH CHEW CHEW GULP. “…mellowed…” BRAAAPP. “…you.”
“Uggh,” Dallas moaned, averting her eyes from Batyn, who was busy decimating a prawn wrap from “Sandwich or What?” For her part, Dallas had skipped the sandwich stand in Waystation’s food court and headed straight for the biggest serving of stir-fried Chodok she could get at Wok-A-Chodok. The food in Tantalus V had been bland in the extreme. Dr. Warren thought it helped to maintain a low-key atmosphere. Dallas disagreed considering she’d come close on a few occasions to starting a riot demanding something with some damn flavor.
“I mean,” Batyn continued, after sending another massive bit of the prawn wrap down his gullet…assuming fish could even be said to have a gullet, “Before you got sent away, you never would have let us stop for lunch before chasing your next wild trout.”
“What kind of moron goes around chasing birds?”
“Never mind,” Dallas said. “Just hurry up and eat.” She scooped up another fork-full of Koldalan rice and Chodok and shoved it unceremoniously into her mouth. The truth was that, under normal circumstances, she wouldn’t have taken a lunch break, but she was hungry for something other than Tantalus V food or meals from the Runabout Pee Dee’s replicator. The Crazy Condor Circus could wait for the twenty minutes necessary to consume a freshly stir-fried Chodok.
“So what are you planning here?” Batyn asked. “I mean, you aren’t just going to charge on stage during the circus performance screaming that they’re evil. You aren’t, are you?”
“They’re coming here for a reason. We just have to figure out what it is.”
“Got me. This place is in the absolute middle of nowhere. Gateway to the Beta Quadrant, my fins! This mall is the only sign of life on the whole station, and it’s not even all that great. Mall of Antares. Now THAT’S a mall. You’d think with Bradley Dillon here, the mall would be a bit more impressive.”
Bradley Dillon was one of the idiosyncracies of the 24th century. In an era that claimed to have moved beyond the need for money, Bradley was rich. The original source of his wealth was a lucky business investment which had dumped a few billion credits in his lap, but, since that time, he’d multiplied his fortune close to a hundred fold with his Dillon’s Supply Depot empire, which now seemed to have a store in every major city and on every space station in the Alpha Quadrant. Some of the larger starships even had them.
Conventional wisdom held that a magnate of Bradley Dillon’s caliber would establish his base of operations on one of the core Federation worlds, but Bradley had founded the first Dillon’s Supply Depot on Waystation and had decided to keep the corporate headquarters of Dillon Enterprises there after his fortune grew.
“And who the hell buys Breen lingerie?” Batyn demanded just before shoving the last bit of prawn wrap into his mouth.
“That,” Dallas said firmly, “is none of your business.”
Batyn’s bulbous eyes bulged a bit more. “You?” He chuckled. “You in lingerie? Now that I have to see. Never mind. My brain can’t handle the thought of it.”
“There’s more to me than this job, believe or not,” Dallas snapped. Wow. She almost sounded convincing. But then that was the point her ex-husband had tried to get into head when he visited her at Tantalus V. She wasn’t anything more than her job. She never let herself be. Instead, she focused all of her energies to the exclusion of everything else. Friends. Family. Lovers.
“Let’s go,” Dallas said darkly, scooping her trash up off of the table and marching toward the nearest reclamation bin.
“No dessert? Chocolate covered scallop?”
“Now!” Dallas said, as her stomach lurched at the thought of any seafood confections coming near it.
“So much for mellowing,” Batyn groused, moving to follow Dallas. She led him down a floor to the lower level of the two story Starfleet Square Mall and down the concourse toward the station’s security office.
“Hold on, Dallas. What are you doing?”
“Going to see their Chief of Security,” Dallas replied impatiently.
“You mean the nice man with the phaser who arrested us the last time we were here,” Batyn said. “I don’t know that he’ll want to see us.”
“We haven’t done anything this time,” Dallas said just before she stepped inside. Batyn’s gills flapped in annoyance, but, against his better judgment, he followed his partner into the office.
Waystation’s Chief of Security, Lieutenant Sean Russell, was seated at his desk munching on his own lunch in the moments before Dallas entered. Despite Waystation’s size, Russell’s life was not generally stressful. Sure there was the occasional disturbance in the mall, but for the most part Russell was free to enjoy the pleasures that having his office located in Starfleet Square Mall provided. A wide variety of dining options was second on that list of pleasures. First was the view his office window provided of the various ladies strolling through the mall. Of course, the monitor he had displaying the security camera feed from Nendegar’s Secret, Waystation’s Breen lingerie ship, wasn’t too bad either.
Russell was caught a bit off-guard by someone entering his office. Spotting the athletic-looking Dallas, Lieutenant Russell’s eyes lit up as he fumbled to push his lunch aside, smiling his most charming smile as he did so. “Good Afternoon, ma’am,” he said, standing up quickly, so quickly that he slammed his knee into his desk. “What can I do for you today?” he added, teeth clenched to keep from acknowledging the pain.
An Antidean stepped into the office behind the woman, jogging a memory in Russell’s mind. Human woman with a fish guy. Oh yeah. The freaks from two years ago who rampaged through the mall screaming that some giant lizard people were going to attack the Federation. Russell’s face fell.
“Agent Samantha Dallas. Starfleet Intelligence,” Dallas said, stepping forward to shake Russell’s hand. “We met briefly two years ago.”
“Who’s attacking us this time? Giant cows? Maybe a big sheep?”
“I think he remembers us,” Batyn remarked.
“Hey! I was right about the lizards,” Dallas said. As much as Russell hated to admit it, she was. She’d even known that they’d be called the Flarn. At the time, it had sounded ridiculous, but then a couple of months later, Waystation, which had just finished being renovated and didn’t even have its full offensive and defensive systems online, was almost obliterated by a Flarn ship.
“What do you want?” Russell asked warily.
“Your help, actually,” Dallas said. “We have reason to believe that something is going to happen here in the next day or so.”
“Something, huh? That’s nice and vague. Any idea who will be doing this something?”
“The Crazy Condor Circus. They’re not what they appear. If they’re coming here for a one-time-only special performance, it’s because they’re up to something.”
“The circus? Come on!”
“I was right about the Flarn,” Dallas reminded him. “If I’m right again and we manage to stop something horrible from happening, just think what it could mean for your career.”
Russell was silent for a few moments. A promotion would be nice. He’d been a lieutenant for what seemed like forever now. “What do you need from me?” he asked finally.
“Where are the circus members staying now?”
“They haven’t arrived yet. They’ll be here tomorrow morning.”
“Wonderful,” Dallas said with a scheming smile. “You see, Batyn. Our informant got us here in perfect time to take action against the Crazy Condors. Contact us when their ship is about to dock, Lieutenant. We’ll search it as soon as they disembark.” Dallas turned on her heel and charged out of the office.
“Search it?” Russell exclaimed. “Is she crazy?”
“Was. But the folks at Tantalus V claim she’s much better now,” Batyn said as he headed out after Dallas.
“Tantalus V?” Russell squeaked, collapsing back into his desk chair. What had he just gotten himself into?
True to his word, Lieutenant Russell contacted Dallas and Batyn as soon as he received word from Ops that The Crazy Condor Circus transport ship had requested permission to dock. The vessel was routed to Docking Bay Three, which was just large enough to hold the modified freighter.
Dallas and Batyn ran into the docking bay just as the doors were starting to open to allow the circus ship to enter the bay. Russell frantically waved them into the docking bay control room where he had been waiting.
“I’m not detecting anything unusual on our sensors,” Russell said as Dallas and Batyn peered out the window at the craft. “No weapons. No explosives. No odd energy signatures.”
“That doesn’t mean a thing,” Dallas said darkly, her gaze locked on the cockpit of the freighter. “They’re up to something.”
“So you keep saying,” Batyn muttered.
The doors into the docking bay opened allowing a young woman to enter, checking something on a padd as she did so.
“Who is she?” Dallas demanded.
“Yeoman Jones. She’s our liaison officer. Meeting incoming ships is kind of her job,” Russell replied.
“Can you get rid of her?”
“She’ll be gone as soon as she talks to the ship’s captain,” Russell said. “Speaking of, I need to get out there and give my security spiel. Please stay out of sight!”
Russell stepped out of the control room just as the hatch on the side of the freighter began to open and a ramp began to extend. Dallas ducked to the floor, dragging Batyn down with her.
“Do you want to get spotted?” Dallas hissed.
“Why the hell would they care about me? They don’t even know who I am,” Batyn groused, slumping against the wall of the room and crossing his arms angrily.
“A big fish guy swiped me away from them right in the middle of one of their performances. They’ll recognize you.”
“There are Antideans everywhere. Why…”
“What?” Dallas exclaimed surprised. “What the hell’s gotten into you? You’ve been pissed off all morning.”
“Bad night,” Batyn replied. “And it’s your fault,” he added pointedly.
“What did I do?”
“You came back,” he snapped. “I was doing just fine. Sleep at home, go to work, sleep there, go home, eat, then sleep some more. No more running around the quadrant on your psychotic crusades. Then you blow back in, drag me here, and…” Batyn trailed off.
“And?” Dallas said.
“I wanted to go out last night,” he said, sounding ashamed.
“I don’t go out. I haven’t in years. I never wanted to.”
“You can change, you know,” Dallas said, peering cautiously over the console and out the window. Lieutenant Russell and Yeoman Jones were currently greeting a small group of people, most of whom Dallas recognized. Adrian Cullers, the Ringmaster and mastermind behind The Crazy Condor Circus. Matilda, the bearded strong-woman. Claude, the poodle trainer. Two of the Flying T’Falls. And lastly, an exceptionally short, portly man in a top hat and a cape that Dallas did not know.
“I don’t change,” Batyn continued. “I’m done. Over. You know what the agents used to call me? Blackened Trout. Get it? I was burnt out. Then you showed up and started running me ragged from planet to planet. And you know what? I think I enjoyed it. When you were sent away, I just sat in our office. I couldn’t move. After a few months, I settled back into the old routine I had before I even met you.
“Then last night, I was laying in my tank, sloshing back and forth and just feeling completely restless. I was out again, and I wanted to do something. But I just stayed there. I finally show a damn spark of life, and I stifle it down? Why? Just because it went against my burn-out persona! What a stupid thing to do?”
Dallas turned on him. “Would you quite babbling about whatever the hell it is you’re on about back there and let me concentrate?” she snapped. “Jeeze. When did you get so damn chatty?”
“You weren’t even listening!” Batyn almost shouted, rising to his feet.
“Sit down and shut up!”
“Unbelievable,” Batyn said, shaking his head. “Last time I bare my soul.” He chuckled. “A soul-bearing sole.”
That did it. Tonight, after this foolishness with the circus was over, he was going out. Waystation had to have some kind of nightclub or bar or something. Dallas could sit on the Pee Dee and rot inside her paranoid delusions of evil circuses and galactic conspiracies for all he cared.
Dallas didn’t really care all that much about Batyn at that moment either. Adrian Cullers was currently shaking hands with Russell and Yeoman Jones as the rest of the Crazy Condors pulled a couple of cargo container covered anti-grav pallets out of the freighter presumably holding their equipment for the evening’s performance. The containers would have to be searched as well, but that could wait until after she’d had a look at the ship.
At long last, Cullers and the other Crazy Condors filed out of the docking bay, following behind Yeoman Jones, whom Dallas assumed was taking them to the auditorium to set up for the show. Once the doors to the corridor closed, Dallas was out of the control room in a flash, making a beeline for the freighter.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Russell called out as she dashed by him.
“She’s sure,” Batyn said, strolling up beside him. “And there’s no point in talking to her because she won’t listen anyway. She’s just one great big ball of sure, so wrapped up in herself and doing things her own way that you might as well be trying to have a conversation with a photon torpedo!”
“Er…oookay,” Russell said, looking at Batyn worriedly. Was the fish guy about to snap or something? Russell backed quickly toward the freighter, turned, then ran after Dallas.
“No one knows how to listen anymore,” Batyn muttered, following the others.
By the time Batyn made his way to the freighter’s cockpit, Dallas and Russell were already there, Dallas typing away on the ship’s main computer console as Russell looked on worriedly.
“Do you have any clue what you’re looking for?” Batyn said.
“I’ll know it when I find it,” Dallas shot back tersely.
“Maybe there’s nothing to find.”
“If you’re not going to help, get out.”
“I don’t think we have to fight about it,” Russell said, not enjoying a single second of being stuck in the middle of the Starfleet Intel agents. “We’ll take a quick look, then leave. No big deal. No harm done.”
Batyn snorted derisively. “You have no idea who you’re dealing with here. There’s always harm.”
“Batyn! OUT!” Dallas shouted.
“No problem. I’m perfectly content to opt out of this week’s delusion. I’ll be finding a bar if you need me.”
“Victoria’s is nice,” Russell offered. “British atmosphere. Good beer.”
“Hmm…I’ll have to try that out.”
“Hello?” Dallas said irritated. “Some of us are rooting out evil here!”
“We’re just talking,” Russell replied defensively.
“Do it outside.”
“Fine!” Batyn and Russell shouted back, heading toward the cockpit doors.
“I’m in!” Dallas suddenly shouted triumphantly.
Power all around the cockpit blinked off as the alarm klaxon blared. In front of Batyn and Russell, the cockpit door slammed shut, sealing with an ominous hiss.
“Oops,” Dallas said softly.
“Unauthorized access detected,” a computer voice said serenely. “Anti-intrusion systems engaged. Provide an authorized voice print in fifteen seconds, or termination protocol will commence.”
“Termination!” Russell cried.
“Good one, Dallas,” Batyn said. “I’m SO glad you got out of Tantalus V.”
“Um…” Dallas stammered, looking around for a potential escape route. The front viewport seemed to be the only way, but she didn’t exactly have anything capable of breaking through transparent aluminum. As tempting as it was to try to use Batyn as a battering ram, they didn’t really have the time.
“Russell to Ops,” the Waystation officer said, slapping his commbadge.
“Porter here,” a male voice replied.
“Beam us out of here now!”
“Out of where? Sean, what’s going on?”
“Five seconds until termination protocol commencement,” the computer stated.
“I don’t even want to know, do I?” Porter’s voice asked, sounding amused.
“Craig!” Russell shouted.
“All right. Energizing.”
Another, much louder hiss sounded as gas began pouring out of vents around the cockpit. For an instant, Dallas’ lungs were on fire, despite her best efforts to hold her breath, then a moment later, she and the others were taken apart by the comforting tingle of a transporter beam.
The trio reappeared moments later in the Operations Center of Waystation, where a rather bemused-looking man stood behind a console looking at them.
“Thank you for using Porter Express,” he said. “Pulling asses out of the fire for more than a decade.”
“Just in time, too, Craig,” Russell said, rushing over to another console as Dallas and Batyn looked around Ops. A large viewscreen dominated the front wall of the circular chamber, while a double turbolift shaft extended into the middle of the room. To the right of the viewscreen, Lieutenant Craig Porter stood manning his operations/science console, while Russell worked feverishly at what Dallas assumed was the tactical console to the left of the viewscreen. Looking around the right of the turbolift shaft, Dallas could see an office, while more consoles and a briefing room lined the walls to the left.
“What are you doing now?” Porter asked as Russell pounded controls on his console.
“Destroying the evidence,” Russell shot back breathlessly.
Porter’s attention was pulled to his console as several sensors began flashing. “Hey! HEY! Watch it with the energy pulses! You’ve got EM and have a dozen other things flying around that docking bay.”
“I’m wiping out the circus ship’s sensor logs.”
“And everything else too! Including my sensor feed!”
“Do I even want to know?” a woman’s voice asked sternly from behind Dallas and Batyn. The Starfleet Intelligence agents turned to see a tall redheaded woman standing behind them, hands on the hips of her four-pipped uniform disapprovingly.
Years ago, Captain Lisa Beck was one of the last Communications Officers in Starfleet stuck in a dead-end job on a ship that most people would rather not acknowledge existed. That had all changed with the discovery of the Multeks and the establishment of Waystation. Sensing command potential in Beck, the Admiralty had scooped her out of her old life of drudgery and put her in charge of an entire station of drudgery. At least it had been drudgery at first, but as traffic to the station grew, Beck had become more and more content with her post and satisfied with her life. Even so, she had that nagging problem common to most command officers of actually wanting to know what was going on around her station.
“And why are there strange people in my Ops, Russell?” Beck asked, eyeing Dallas and Batyn.
“Agent Samantha Dallas. Starfleet Intelligence. Lieutenant Russell has been assisting my partner and I with our investigation,” Dallas said, stepping forward.
“And why are the strange people answering questions for you, Sean?” Beck said more pointedly.
“Um…she knew about the Flarn?” Russell replied weakly.
“Everybody knows about the Flarn,” Beck snapped.
“No. She knew before they attacked. I arrested her when she tried to warn us.”
“Arrested her, huh? Wonderful recommendation there.”
“We really don’t have time for this, Captain,” Dallas said. “At this very moment, an insidious group is readying some kind of nefarious enterprise.”
Beck blinked several times as she digested Dallas’ statement. “Oooookay. So just who is this insidious group?”
“The Crazy Condor Circus,” Dallas said firmly.
“She knew about the Flarn,” Russell squeaked.
Beck turned on Dallas. “So that gives you the right to fry a ship belonging to our guests?”
“In all fairness, your boy did the frying,” Batyn said, drawing a glare from Beck. “Well, he did!”
“That was not in my original plan,” Dallas said. “I’m simply here to keep an eye on the circus.”
“I’m guessing I really don’t have the authority to interfere with a Starfleet Intel investigation, as much as I might want to,” Beck said with a sigh.
“No, ma’am,” Dallas said curtly, completely ignoring the small fact that this was not an official Starfleet Intel case.
“Fine. Watch the circus, but do it without obliterating anything else, or you and the seafood buffet there will be sitting in a holding cell until Starfleet Intel sends somebody to escort you off of my station.”
“Your cooperation will be noted,” Dallas said flatly, crushing down the anger growing in the pit of her stomach. Damn Captains. Always too full of themselves and their little seats of power to recognize when real danger was scurrying right under their feet. “Come on, Batyn.” Dallas charged into the nearest turbolift.
“Nice meeting you, Captain,” Batyn said lightly before following his partner.
Russell and Beck locked eyes for several tense moments.
“Babysitter,” Beck said.
“Gotcha,” Russell replied, dashing into the turbolift just before the doors closed.
“Who the hell does she think she is?” Dallas grumbled as the turbolift began its descent toward Starfleet Square Mall.
“The one in charge,” Russell said.
“Yeah, well she doesn’t have to be such a pain in the ass about it.”
“I don’t know,” Batyn said. “I kind of liked her.”
“Are you nuts? I couldn’t stand her!” Dallas snapped.
“That might be why I liked her,” Batyn replied with a fishy smirk.
“All right. Here’s the plan,” Dallas said as she, Batyn, and Lieutenant Russell stepped out onto the main concourse of Starfleet Square Mall. “We need to get a look into those cargo containers the Crazy Condors carted off of their ship. Russell and I will disguise ourselves as stagehands at the auditorium and try and get to the crates. Batyn, you shadow Adrian Cullers. If something’s going to happen here, he’s the one behind it. Go find him.”
“Why bother?” Batyn said.
“He’s right there,” Batyn finished, pointing at a man headed in their general direction. It was Cullers all right. Dallas grabbed Batyn and Russell, swinging them around so all three were facing a wall as Cullers went past. Whipping quickly back around, Dallas spotted the midget from the docking bay, still wearing his top hat and cape, walking beside Cullers.
Cullers suddenly stopped, having spotted something of interest. In an instant, he and the midget were off in another direction heading toward a well-dressed man strolling casually along the concourse.
“Now who is that?” Dallas muttered. “A fellow conspirator?”
“Do you ever watch holovision?” Batyn exclaimed. “That’s Bradley Dillon.” At that moment, Cullers was speaking to Bradley, who was shaking his head ‘no’ about something or other. Finally, Cullers picked the midget up, putting him almost directly in Bradley’s face. Bradley’s head stopped shaking as he stared at the midget with rapt attention. Finally, his head nodded yes. Cullers smiled, shook Bradley’s hand, then quickly retreated back into the crowds, leaving Bradley alone and unmoving except for his still-nodding head.
“What the hell?” Russell said starting off in Bradley’s direction, Dallas close on his heels, as Batyn ambled along behind them idly wondering what the lunch special was at Soup on a Stick.
“Mister Dillon?” Russell said, trying to draw Bradley’s attention. The multi-billionaire didn’t respond. “Bradley?” Russell waved his hand in front of Bradley’s face. “Hello in there?”
“They’ve poisoned him!” Dallas exclaimed, grabbing Dillon. “It was an assassination! Get a doctor!”
“Get off of me!” Bradley Dillon declared indignantly, Dallas’ touch snapping him out of whatever trance he was in. “Who is this woman, Lieutenant?” Bradley demanded once he saw Russell.
“Sorry, Mister Dillon. She’s with me,” Russell replied, wondering how many more times he was going to find himself explaining and apologizing for Dallas. She’d better at least agree to dinner after all of this.
“What did Adrian Cullers want from you?” Dallas demanded, getting back in Bradley’s face.
“He wanted to me to come to his circus tonight,” Bradley replied.
“What about his midget?” Dallas asked.
“What midget?” Bradley asked confused. “Never mind. I don’t have time for this. I have things to do before tonight.”
“You aren’t actually going to the circus, are you?” Dallas asked.
“Yes, of course. I wouldn’t miss it,” Bradley said almost mechanically, his eyes looking slightly glazed as he spoke. He suddenly shook it off and strode off down the mall toward the entrance of The Starfleet Suites Hotel, which was owned and operated, predictably enough, by Dillon Enterprises.
“Now that was weird,” Russell said.
“They’re pretty hard up for an audience if they’re resorting to hypnosis to get people there,” Batyn said.
“At least we’re agreed that it’s hypnosis. They want Bradley Dillon at tonight’s show for some reason,” Dallas said.
“Kidnapping? Extortion? Flat out robbery? The man is loaded.”
“That doesn’t really seem like the Crazy Condors. Something bigger is going on.” Dallas paused for a moment and looked at her partner. “Wait. Are you saying you believe me about them now?”
“They’re definitely up to something,” Batyn replied. “But that’s as far as I go. I’m assuming simple money-grubbing until I see evidence of your big galactic conspiracy.”
“How did he miss the midget?” Russell asked confused, breaking into Dallas and Batyn’s exchange.
“How did you miss the whole hypnosis thing?” Batyn muttered.
“I mean, he was right in Mister Dillon’s face,” Russell continued, putting his hand up as an example. “Right there! How can you miss that?”
Dallas pulled Russell’s hand back down. “Forget that for now. You and Batyn try and find out what the Crazy Condors have planned for Bradley Dillon.”
“I’m sure they’ll be happy to tell us their entire plan,” Batyn said sarcastically.
“Where are you going?” Russell asked as Dallas headed away.
“Shopping. I think I have an idea.”
“Is that a good thing?” Russell asked Batyn.
Batyn shook his head. “Nah. This is usually when I start worrying.”
“Have I mentioned how happy I am that I got dragged into this?”
“I’m right there with you.”
Considering that they were less than five minutes away from show time, the members of The Crazy Condor Circus seemed oddly composed in Lieutenant Russell’s opinion. Of course, the fact that they were most likely evil could have had something to do with that.
Russell and Agent Batyn had spent most of the afternoon hanging around the auditorium with Batyn trying to keep any of the Crazy Condors from spotting him, which pretty much reduced him to lurking on the catwalks above the stage while Russell milled about backstage attempting to appear as though he had a reason to be there.
Now, unfortunately, he had a reason. Agent Dallas had summoned him and Batyn out of the auditorium a short time earlier, ready to divulge the results of her shopping expedition.
“I don’t get it,” Agent Batyn had said, holding one of the small circular objects, little larger than a rank pip, in his hand.
“It’s a property tag,” Dallas replied, snapping the device away from her partner. “It’s supposed to be for keeping track of your gear in hostile environments. I found it at Dillon’s Supply Depot.”
“We aren’t tagging gear, are we?” Russell said, getting the gist of where this was headed.
Dallas smiled predatorily. “Nope.”
So now Lieutenant Russell was faced with the prospect of somehow getting these property tags onto each one of the Crazy Condors. He had to admit, it made sense to keep tabs on them during the performance if something horrible was supposed to be happening, but he wasn’t too thrilled about having to play this big of a part in the whole scheme while Dallas and Batyn sat in the back of the audience watching the monitor of the tag locator.
Suddenly, Russell saw his chance. Adrian Cullers, the Ringmaster, had gathered his small group of performers together in a huddle for a last minute pep-talk. All six Crazy Condors (Cullers, Claude the French Poodle Trainer, the two Flying T’Falls, Matilda the Bearded Waltzing Weightlifting Lady, and the midget, who according to the program was named The Magnificent Mini Mendrini) in one place. He had to act now.
“Woah woah WOAH!” Russell sprawled to the stage floor after faking a fairly convincing trip (Russell had had stage aspirations of his own at one point in his life) and went sliding between the two T’Falls, both of whom gazed down at him with typical Vulcan detachment while the other Crazy Condors glared.
“Sorry,” Russell said, starting to get up. “Wait!” He clutched at his collar. “Where’s my other pip?” He began fumbling around on the floor, brushing his hands past the shoes of the various Crazy Condors, attaching the tags as he did so, then, finally, Russell stood up in the center of the group, pip in hand. “Got it. Sorry about that. Break a leg, everybody.”
Russell made a hasty retreat, using the stage exit of the auditorium, then raced around to the main auditorium entrance, where he found Dallas waiting for him.
“I did it,” he said, out of breath.
“Uh huh,” Dallas replied distractedly, barely looking up from the tag tracker, a small, hand-held device about half the size of a standard padd.
“Good evening, Lieutenant,” Bradley Dillon said with a courteous nod as he walked up to the pair accompanied by a fidgety man Russell didn’t recognize. Something about him just screamed socially-inept science type. “This is Doctor Donoski from my R&D division. I thought I’d force him out of a lab for a while since he’s visiting.”
“Hi,” Donoski said softly as he gave a shy wave.
“Lieutenant Russell here is our Chief of Security,” Bradley explained. “His female companion and I have not been properly introduced.”
“Sandy Duncan,” Dallas said quickly. “Security Intern. Nice ta meet ya.”
Bradley smiled at Russell. “An intern, Lieutenant? Well, judging by our run-in this afternoon, she certainly seems eager.”
“I love my work,” Dallas replied without looking away from her monitor. “The show will be starting soon. Better get inside.”
“Charming woman,” Bradley said, stepping away with Donoski as Dallas kicked Russell, drawing an angry glare from the Security Chief.
“Tag him!” she whispered.
“Oh!” Russell whispered back, pulling a tag from his pocket, which he lobbed at Bradley Dillon. It impacted lightly against the billionaire’s rear end and held fast.
Dallas and Russell exchanged a look as both threatened to break down laughing. “Well, we’ll know where his ass is at all times,” Dallas said finally. That did it. The two almost hit the floor laughing as Batyn emerged from the auditorium carrying one of the small padds from the seat backs that displayed the program.
“Have you looked at this?” Batyn asked, ignoring the state Dallas and Russell were in. They didn’t respond. “Hello? I’m actually paying attention to the case here. Let’s try and encourage me or something.”
“What is it?” Dallas said, getting control of herself.
“The program,” Batyn said, handing her the padd. “Notice anything weird?”
Dallas looked down the list of acts. The Magnificent Mini Mendrini. Claude and His Peerless Poodles, Matilda’s Massive Muscle Review.
“Where are the T’Falls?” she asked.
“What?” Russell asked confused.
“She’s latched onto the problem,” Batyn explained. The lights inside the auditorium dimmed as the doors began to automatically close.
Dallas looked back down at her monitor. “Two signals are on the move. Out the back exit. Anybody want to guess who?”
“Let’s go,” Russell said.
“No. You and Batyn have to watch Bradley Dillon.” She turned to her partner. “You still have the second tag tracker?”
“No. I lost it in less than an hour. Of course I still have it,” Batyn said irritated.
“Good,” Dallas said without missing a beat. “You and Russell watch Bradley Dillon. We just tagged him. I’ll deal with the T’Falls.”
“I can call out my officers,” Russell said. “You may need backup.”
“Something bigger is going on here. I don’t want to come in too strong just yet,” Dallas said, moving off down the corridor. “I’ll comm you if I need help.”
“You ready to head in?” Batyn asked, opening the door.
“Yeah. I guess,” Russell replied, watching Dallas disappear around the corner.
“Our seats had better still be there, or somebody’s getting fish-slapped.”
The T’Falls made their way into the nearest turbolift and began ascending toward Starfleet Square Mall. Agent Dallas waited impatiently for the next car, then resumed her pursuit. Rather than exit at the mall, the T’Falls continued up two more levels into the heart of the Dillon Enterprises offices. Suddenly, Dallas’ readout of their tag signals began to destabilize, as though the signal was being jammed.
Why would Bradley Dillon have jammers operating in his offices?
Or maybe it wasn’t Bradley Dillon’s fault. The T’Falls were likely running their own jammers to hide their entrance to the Dillon complex. She’d be sure to look for their jamming device once she finished kicking the crap out of them.
“It’s a carpin’ circus,” Batyn muttered as Adrian Cullers rambled through his introduction to the show. “Get to the acts and get the hell off of the stage.”
“…pleasure to bring you a small sampling of our much larger repertoire. We hope that this will wet your appetite to see our entire show should you happen to be visiting a world where we’re performing, but, now, without further ado I’d like to bring out our first featured performer: The Magnificent Mini Mendrini!” Adrian Cullers clapped as the caped midget strode out onto the stage, taking a deep bow.
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,” Mendrini intoned in an almost musical, deep voice. “I am honored to be with you this evening to display a few modest feats of prestidigitation.”
The audience spontaneously applauded Mendrini’s perfect enunciation as the magician stepped toward a chair that Adrian Cullers brought out onto the stage. “I will require a volunteer,” Mendrini said. Instantly, every hand in the audience went up, including Batyn and Russell’s.
“He’s good,” Batyn said to himself, trying to force his hand back down.
“You, sir,” Mendrini said, pointing into the front row of the audience. “Join me.”
Bradley Dillon rose to his feet and walked up onto the stage in a dazed stupor.
Bradley did so without so much as a blink.
“What is your name?”
“And what do you do, Bradley?”
“I run one of the largest corporations in the galaxy.”
“Very nice. So what is your bank account number?” Mendrini asked with a sly grin, drawing a laugh from the audience.
“I won’t tell you that.”
“Of course not,” Mendrini said. “But you must be a busy man. How would you feel about getting away from it all for a while? Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“Uh huh,” Bradley said, nodding dumbly.
“Then today is your lucky day,” Mendrini said, snapping his fingers. A rectangular box lowered from the catwalk, covering Bradley. “And a one, and a two, and a THREE!”
Mendrini pointed at the box, which suddenly exploded in a large cloud of white smoke.
When it cleared, the box and Bradley Dillon were nowhere to be seen.
“Now how’s that for getting away from it all?” Mendrini asked, raising his arms into the air victoriously.
On cue, the audience applauded wildly.
Agent Dallas wasn’t quite sure what she expected the T’Falls to be doing when she tracked them down, but sitting around a small stone fountain at the intersection of two of the Dillon Enterprises corridors playing a small travel Tri-D chess game was not anywhere on the list.
Why sneak into the Dillon Enterprises area taking all of the trouble to jam sensors just to play chess?
She didn’t get much time to ponder the question, though, as the T’Falls, with their superior Vulcan hearing, detected her approach. Widening their eyes ever so briefly as an acknowledgment of their surprise, the T’Falls got to their feet, standing side-by-side in their white tights adorned with blue stars.
“Did you fellas get a little lost?” Dallas asked confidently, striding forward with her hands in her pockets, one of which was currently gripping her hand phaser.
“Samantha Dallas,” the T’Falls said flatly (as if she’d expect them to speak in any other way). “Your presence is unexpected and unwelcome.”
“Funny. I’m betting that Bradley Dillon would feel the same way about your presence here. Care to fill me in?”
“You will now be dispatched.”
“Try me,” Dallas said as the T’Falls began to move, both launching into graceful forward flips toward her position. Dallas had the phaser out in an instant and fired, hitting the left T’Fall in the legs mid-flip. He collapsed to the deck with a grunt as feeling seeped out of his limbs.
Dallas dodged left as the remaining T’Fall completed his flip, narrowly avoiding having a foot slam into her head in the process. The T’Fall regained his footing quickly, but Dallas already had her fist in motion, smashing the Vulcan in the stomach. He didn’t even flinch.
Damn Vulcan strength, Dallas thought to herself as she was lifted into the air and flung toward the stone fountain. She landed just shy of it, much to her relief, and scrambled to her knees to aim her phaser.
The T’Fall was already right on her. Dallas slammed her thumb down on the fire control frantically, sending a phaser blast sizzling past the T’Fall’s right arm. He did not look amused, not that Vulcan’s ever looked amused.
Suddenly, his body jolted forward, almost hitting Dallas before he smacked into the edge of the fountain and flipped into the water.
Dallas found herself face to face with Captain Lisa Beck, crouched in a fighting stance.
“I am so getting an explanation when this is over,” Beck said.
“Duck!” Dallas cried just as the other T’Fall, who had shaken off the stun blast to his legs alarmingly quickly, launched himself at Beck from behind. Beck dropped to the deck as Dallas charged forward at a dead run, arm extended. She caught the T’Fall in the neck with her straight arm, sending him thudding to the deck. As soon as he hit, he was rolling, leaping back to his feet to face Dallas.
Meanwhile, the now-drenched T’Fall in the fountain had pulled himself to his feet and was sizing up Captain Beck.
“I have no desire to harm a Starfleet Captain,” he said. “I request that you leave this area and do not speak of this incident.”
“Request denied,” Beck said sternly.
The T’Fall leapt out of the fountain, landing in front of Beck and immediately launching into a quick series of kicks and jabs, spraying water everywhere as he did so. Beck staggered back as the first few hits connected with her body, then she fought back, blocking blows and landing a few of her own.
Dallas’ T’Fall was far less verbose, instead choosing to attack directly. Dallas dodged his initial charge, slamming her elbow into the rear of the T’Fall’s head as he sailed by. She continued to turn, launching into a flat out run as the T’Fall stumbled toward the fountain, trying to stop himself and recover from the blow to the head. Dallas quickly kicked out, hitting the battered T’Fall in the small of the back and shoving him forward. The T’Fall gasped in pain as his shins crashed against the edge of the fountain. He toppled down into the gurgling water, writhing in agony.
“Captain! Drop him!” Dallas said, aiming her phaser at the fountain. Understanding, Beck launched herself in the patented James T. Kirk two-booted drop kick, knocking her T’Fall back into the fountain.
With both Vulcans in the water, Dallas fired. The stun blast hit the water and conducted through the liquid into each man’s body. After a few seconds of spasms, they collapsed into complete and utter unconsciousness.
“Nice timing,” Dallas said, putting her phaser away.
“We get a sensor glitch in Dillon Enterprises, then you show up, and you think I’m not going to check it out?” Beck said, rubbing her arms where she’d been hit. She tapped her commbadge. “Beck to security.”
“Ensign Waits here,” a male security officer replied over the comm system.
“I’ve got a pickup at my position. Two Vulcans. Nimble. Bring binders.”
Dallas leaned down to check the T’Falls over. What were they after? She couldn’t see a padd or anything, but she did see a small wrist communicator on one of them. Beck was looking at the scattered chess set, giving Dallas a chance to swipe the communicator without the captain noticing. The T’Falls were obviously waiting for something, most likely a signal, and Dallas wanted to make sure she’d be the one to receive it.
Normally, Batyn would have been fairly annoyed by the Magnificent Mini Mendrini’s rapid departure after making Bradley Dillon vanish, but for some reason he found himself applauding wildly with everyone else in the audience as Mendrini took several bows and rushed from the stage while Adrian Cullers stepped into the spotlight.
“Wow,” Lieutenant Russell mumbled. “He was amazing.”
“Magnificent even,” Batyn said as Cullers launched into his introduction of Matilda’s Waltzing Weightlifting act. Batyn and Russell found themselves staring numbly at the stage.
“This is…wrong,” Russell said, his words slurring as he forced his lips to move.
“Right. Must…find…Bradley,” Batyn said, fighting against some unknown force in his brain compelling him to watch a giant bearded woman cavort across the stage toting around large chunks of metal.
“Don’t know,” Batyn said. “Need tracker.” Batyn shoved his hand down into his pocket, then wrenched it back up with the tracker in hand.
“See him?” Russell asked.
“Can’t. Eyes won’t…look away from…stage.”
Russell jerkily reached over and aimed Batyn’s head in the right direction. “Got him,” Batyn said. “He’s with Mendrini…in another room. He’s not moving. I should…check it out. Stay here. Watch things.”
“I’ll do that.” Several second passed. “You going?”
“Trying,” Batyn said, finally resorting to grabbing his leg and shifting it sideways. Russell shoved him into a standing position. “Thanks,” Batyn added, shuffling down the aisle, moving each leg one at a time.
By the time the auditorium doors closed behind him, Batyn felt full control of his body returning. Shaking the last vestiges of whatever mental mojo the Magnificent Mini Mendrini had cast on him, he headed off down the corridors, following Bradley Dillon’s signal until he found himself outside a storage room off the rear hallways of the auditorium. Batyn switched from the tracker to his tricorder for a moment, just to make sure no other lifesigns were emanating from the room. No sense in charging in and finding a battalion of Romulans or something. That sort of stupidity he’d leave to Dallas.
Satisfied that only Bradley and Mendrini were inside, Batyn stepped through the doors hoping that he’d just find the two of them sharing a cup of tea or something.
Bradley Dillon had been strapped into a chair underneath a lone white light as Mendrini stood on his lap, staring intently into the billionaire’s eyes.
“The generator, Mister Dillon,” Mendrini said soothingly.
Bradley’s head shook back and forth languidly. “Can’t…won’t…no.”
“The generator, Mister Dillon. Where is the generator?”
“Noooo…” Bradley’s eyes glazed over even more, if that was possible, as Mendrini leaned in closer.
“Hey! Stop that!” Batyn shouted, startling Mendrini, who toppled backwards off of Bradley Dillon onto the floor.
“Wha?” Bradley exclaimed, shaking his head to clear it. “What’s happening? Let me go?”
“Do you mind?” Mendrini said angrily as he got to his feet, his voice booming surprisingly loud for a guy who barely made it past Batyn’s kneecaps.
Batyn clamped his hand over his eyes before Mendrini could look him in the face. “Yeah. I do. Let him go. You’re under arrest.”
“Put your hand down,” Mendrini said calmly.
“Not gonna do it.”
“I suggest that you lower your arm.”
“No way. I’m not…”
Something rather hard smashed into Batyn’s head from behind, sending him sprawling to the floor. “Deal with Dillon,” he heard Adrian Cullers’ voice say as his world swam. “I’ll see to this one.” Batyn didn’t really like that idea at all, but he was suddenly too unconscious to worry about it.
One of the T’Falls began to stir, but it was promptly cut short as Dallas fired another stun blast into the fountain.
“Any idea what these guys were after?” Captain Lisa Beck asked, leaning casually against the wall as she and Agent Dallas waited for security to arrive.
“Not a clue,” Dallas said. “It doesn’t really matter though. Assault on a Starfleet captain should put them in a rehabilitation facility for a nice long time.”
“Oh yeah,” Beck said. “I tend to want to prosecute those sorts of things. Just one of my personality quirks.” A team of six security officers rounded the corner, headed in their direction. Beck straightened up and immediately shifted into commanding officer mode. In short order, the senseless T’Falls were dragged from the fountain, secured with wrist and leg binders, and carted away.
“You coming?” Beck asked, looking back at Dallas as she prepared to follow the security team.
“Not yet,” Dallas said. “I want to look for clues. That sort of thing.”
“Uh huh,” Beck said suspiciously. “You do realize that if you’re keeping something from me, I am going to find out about it, and then I’m going to be VERY annoyed.”
“You will know as soon as I have anything solid,” Dallas said. “That’s a promise.”
“Good enough,” Beck said. “And next time you’re about to get into fight, call for backup first.”
“I’ll do that,” Dallas said as Beck headed off down the corridor. The Starfleet Intel agent sat down on the edge of the fountain and pulled the communicator she’d swiped from the T’Falls out of her pocket.
Now there was nothing to do but wait.
“This would be a real good time for Dallas to get off her tail and save me for once,” Batyn thought to himself as he sat strapped into a chair across the room from where Mendrini was once again working on Bradley Dillon. Cullers had given him one hell of a headache with whatever he’d clubbed him with, but on the bright side, he was still alive and hadn’t been turned into a mime or anything, which is what Cullers had done to Dallas in their last encounter. In retrospect, Batyn really should have taken Dallas’ claims about the Crazy Condors a bit more seriously. But an evil circus? It had sounded so ridiculous. Of course, that was before the Ringmaster had bashed him over the head.
Speaking of Cullers, the storage room doors opened to admit the Crazy Condors’ leader. “Any progress?” he asked Mendrini.
“His will is very strong,” Mendrini replied. “He is resisting, but I will get the information.”
“The clock is ticking, Mendrini. Claude just went on, but he only has so many poodle tricks.”
Mendrini turned back to Bradley Dillon, who was back in the same dazed state he’d been in when Batyn first barged into the room. “The generator, Mister Dillon.”
“Don’t tell him!” Batyn shouted.
“Let me go!” Bradley said, snapping back to alertness.
“Relax,” Mendrini said. Bradley’s head instantly slumped forward.
“Wake up!” Batyn cried. Bradley shot back up.
“RELAX!” Mendrini shouted.
“I most certainly will not!” Bradley shouted back.
Mendrini calmed himself as Batyn saw Cullers storming over to him. “Relax,” the magician said, sending Bradley back into his trance.
“That will be quite enough,” Cullers whispered harshly in Batyn’s earhole. “I don’t know who you are, but I can assure you that you are going to regret ever crossing me.”
“WILL NOT!” Batyn screamed. Cullers clamped his hands over his pained ears as Bradley snapped back awake.
“Relax,” Mendrini said, his voice almost shaking with anger. “Where is the generator?”
“Can’t,” Bradley said softly.
Batyn opened his mouth to shout again, but Cullers slapped his hand over it, silencing the Antidean.
“The generator, Mister Dillon,” Mendrini urged.
“Lab Three. Secure cabinet.”
“What is the deactivation code for the cabinet, Mister Dillon?” Mendrini asked as Cullers pulled a small communicator out of his pocket with his free hand. “The generator is in Lab Three. Find it. I’ll have the security code for you soon.”
A smile spread across Dallas’ face as she heard the voice on the communicator. “…I’ll have the security code for you soon.”
“That’s awfully nice of you, Cullers. I’ll be sure to mention your generosity at your trial,” Dallas replied.
The other end was silent for several moments.
“Who is this?” Cullers demanded.
“You don’t remember me? I’m hurt. Let me refresh your memory. Does watching your mimes get their white faces bashed in ring any bells?”
From the angle he was sitting at, Batyn thought it looked a bit like a few veins in Cullers’ neck were about to burst.
“Dallas!” Cullers shouted in a quaking fury. “DALLAS!”
“Hey!” Mendrini snapped. “Don’t you start, too!”
“Let me go!” Bradley Dillon demanded yet again.
“Shut up!” Cullers said, pulling his hand away from Batyn’s mouth to yell at Bradley.
“Oh yes. That will relax him wonderfully,” Mendrini groused. “Do you want the security code or not?”
“Yes!” Cullers said firmly. He pointed at Batyn threateningly. “And you don’t say anything.”
“Like what?” Batyn replied. “DALLAS! HELP! Something like that?”
Cullers clenched his fists as Dallas’ voice piped up over the commline. “Batyn, hang on. I’m on my way, Cullers. And I’ll be bringing company.” The commline clicked closed.
“Better get some refreshments,” Batyn said. “Security officers tend to get hungry after a few arrests.”
Cullers slammed the communicator to the deck and stomped on it. The device incinerated under his boot, leaving nothing behind as he turned on Mendrini. “Get as much as you can out of Dillon. Security codes. Bank account numbers. Anything.” The Ringmaster charged toward the exit.
“Where are you going?” Mendrini demanded, his voice showing a slight edge of panic.
“To close the show. Just get to work.” Cullers stormed out of the storage room.
“I’d run,” Batyn said calmly.
“Make me,” Batyn replied. “Come over here and hypnotize me with those itty-bitty eyes, shrimp.”
“Leave my height out of this.”
“What? Can’t handle a little oceanic humor? Do you have any idea how many fish jokes I get in a year?”
“I don’t care.”
“No, but I bet you’ve heard every short joke there is. Shrimp. Tadpole. Prawn.”
“What the hell is a prawn?” Mendrini said.
“You don’t know?”
“Stop it!” Mendrini spat. “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to distract me so I’ll leave Bradley Dillon alone.”
“Why would I do that?”
“ARRGH! That’s it!” Mendrini spun around to face Bradley. “I’m not listening to you anymore.”
“Not at all?” Batyn asked.
“Not even if I told you you were about to get clobbered.”
“Leave me alone.”
“Ooookay,” Batyn said with a shrug. “Your funeral.”
“Damn you! Will you please…” Mendrini spun back around and found himself face to chest with Samantha Dallas.
“Mother,” Mendrini squeaked, looking up at the irate agent.
“Not even close,” Dallas replied.
Then she clobbered him.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. You’ve been a gracious audience, and on behalf of everyone at The Crazy Condor Circus, I’d like to extend our invitation to see our complete show as we tour the quadrant. Good night!”
Wild cheers broke out from the crowd as Adrian Cullers, Matilda, and Claude the Poodle Trainer took their bows. If Cullers had to guess, he’d say that the Magnificent Mini-Mendrini was unavoidably detained.
Suddenly, Mendrini’s body slid out from the wings onto the stage in front of him, moaning softly and battered to pulp.
“Consider that a sneak preview, Cullers,” Samantha Dallas called, stepping out onto the stage flanked by Agent Batyn, Captain Lisa Beck, and a small battalion of Starfleet Security officers. Lieutenant Russell, seeing the activity, pried himself out of his seat and headed down to the stage while the rest of the audience, still operating under Mendrini’s hypnosis, filed obediently out of the auditorium.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Cullers asked innocently as Matilda and Claude exchanged worried glances.
“I’d say so,” Beck said, holding up a padd. “Your program didn’t mention that the big show would actually be happening off stage.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Where are your acrobats?” Beck continued. “You brought them here. How come they’re not on the program?”
“They told me they were not feeling well. I excused them from the performance and removed them from the program. I would assume they are resting back on board the ship.”
“Try the infirmary,” Dallas said. “Where they tried to put us!”
“You must be joking,” Cullers said shocked. “They’re two of the most reserved Vulcans I’ve ever known.”
“Yeah. They reserved a few choice blows for us,” Beck said.
“I am shocked to hear it, Captain, but, as I said, I assumed they were in their quarters.”
“Sure you did,” Batyn said. “That’s exactly why you commed them while you had me tied up.”
Cullers started laughing. “Now you’re being ridiculous. I’ve been doing a show here. I didn’t very well have time to go off and put a fish on ice, so to speak.”
“Ha ha,” Batyn said humorlessly.
“So we’re just supposed to think the midget acted alone?” Beck asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand the question,” Cullers said.
“We found your friend there interrogating Bradley Dillon.”
“He knows,” Batyn said. “He was there.”
“I most certainly wasn’t.”
Russell suddenly grabbed Cullers, pulling him up roughly by his collar. “Where’s Bradley Dillon?”
“Down, Sean. Doctor Nelson is looking at him,” Beck said.
“Oh,” Russell said, dropping Cullers. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Dallas said. “This man is the mastermind of a plot to steal a generator from Bradley Dillon. He used Mister Hypnotism down there to kidnap Dillon and extract information from him while his hench-Vulcans waited in the Dillon Enterprises complex to retrieve the generator.”
“What kind of generator?” Russell asked.
“Oh yes. Do enlighten us,” Cullers said. “I’d love to know what it is I’m supposedly trying to steal.”
“I don’t know,” Dallas admitted. “But it’s obviously damn important!”
“Captain Beck,” Cullers said, ignoring Dallas. “Evidently a few of my staff have been engaged in some nefarious activities, which I am appalled about. They should be prosecuted immediately, but allowing this woman to turn this into some vendetta against my entire business is a mistake. She’s been out for me for a long time. If you look into it, you’ll find that Agent Dallas was committed to Tantalus V for her dangerous obsession with my circus. Now I have no idea what it was about The Crazy Condor Circus that first set her off, but she’s been hounding me for over two years now.”
Beck turned on Dallas. “Tantalus?”
“I didn’t belong there,” Dallas shot back.
“Did you know about this, Russell?”
“Um…yes, but…er…she was right about the Flarn!” Russell replied defensively.
Cullers stepped back in. “By all means arrest the T’Falls and Mendrini, Captain, but I believe you know that you have no reason to hold the rest of us.”
Beck thought about his for a moment, pacing in front of Cullers and Dallas. “You’re right,” she said finally.
“Captain!” Dallas exclaimed.
“What about me? I saw him!” Batyn said.
“You’re Dallas’ partner and therefore biased,” Cullers replied.
“I’ll give you biased,” Batyn said, raising one of his massive scaled hands.
“He’s right! I can’t hold him, so just back the hell down!” Beck shouted, silencing everyone.
“Thank you,” Cullers said. “We appreciate your judgment.”
She turned on Cullers. “My judgment is that you’re a slimy piece of sh** who should be rotting in a penal colony somewhere,” Beck said. “That comes from instinct, not evidence, but I’m more than happy to go with it. Now I want you and your freak show off of my station as soon as your ship is operational. Until then, you’re confined to the docking bay. Dismissed!” Beck turned on her heel and stormed off the stage as the security officers scooped up the battered Mendrini.
“He’s not Starfleet,” Russell said, jogging to catch up with her. “I don’t think you can dismiss him.”
“Can it, Sean!”
“Wait,” Cullers called after her. “What did you mean by operational?” He turned his glare on Dallas and Batyn.
Batyn shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said robotically, then headed off after Beck and Russell.
Dallas took a step toward Cullers, going toe-to-toe with the Ringmaster as Claude and Matilda moved to defend their leader.
“I’m not going to hit him,” Dallas said. “Just wanted to say hi.”
“I’m touched,” Cullers dead-panned.
“Unfortunately not,” Dallas replied. “And this isn’t over. The score’s tied at one, but I assure you, I will be the next one to strike. And you won’t be wiggling out of it on a technicality.”
“Until we meet again,” Cullers said with a slight bow, his voice a thinly veiled threat.
TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER…
Bradley Dillon sat perfectly still, enjoying the dim golden light of several holo-candles barely illuminating his office. Here, watching the faux-flames flickering off of the gold and brass fittings around the room, Bradley liked to do most of his deep thinking. It was his own kind of meditation, a habit he’d picked up from a mystic friend who’d once lived on Waystation.
Someone else knew about the subspace generator.
That much was certain. Somehow another group had learned of the generator’s existence and attempted to steal it during the one time it would be away from his well-protected research and development space-station. He should just have gone there for the demo instead of insisting that Dr. Donoski bring it to Waystation in person.
Bradley wouldn’t make that mistake again. He’d sent Donoski and the subspace generator back to the R&D station as soon as Dr. Nelson released him from the infirmary and well before the remaining members of The Crazy Condor Circus had their ship in any condition to leave Waystation.
He was left with one inescapable conclusion. He had a mole. Donoski had more than ample time to run off on his own with the generator, not that he would have. He was too much of a science for science’s sake sort of man. Bradley trusted him; he wouldn’t have let him take the generator back if he didn’t.
So it was someone else. Someone at the R&D station. Outside of Bradley, they were the only ones who knew that the generator even existed. And he didn’t much relish the idea of too many others gaining the technology to open their own pockets of subspace. At first, it had seemed like a novel storage idea, but quickly the dangerous possibilities became apparent. You could hide anything…ANYTHING…and take it anywhere.
He had to find the mole, but that meant using the generator as bait.
Slowly, a plan formed in Bradley Dillon’s mind. All he needed was the right independent transport operator (i.e. smuggler) for the job.
Now what was the name of that woman his brother had mentioned? Karen Raleigh? No no. Wrong North Carolina city.
Durham. Karina Durham.
Bradley activated his desk console and began setting his plan into motion.
ONE WEEK LATER…
“You really want to disturb Admiral Gitt’s lunch?” Agent Batyn asked as he and Dallas walked through the halls of Starfleet Intelligence in Moscow.
“That means he’ll actually be there,” Dallas replied. “I want to make sure he understands that it was one of his fellow admirals who let me out of Tantalus V.”
“Maybe it was him.”
“He has me committed just so he can release me 18 months later and start sending me anonymous packages of information? I don’t think so.”
“Just a thought.”
“I expected to hear from you days ago,” Admiral Hitori Sulu said unhappily, addressing Adrian Cullers on the viewscreen as Sulu and Admiral Gitt sat at a small conference table in Gitt’s office.
“We were unavoidably detained at Waystation. Mechanical issues.”
“What about the generator?”
“We couldn’t get it.”
“Couldn’t get it!” Sulu said, his voice rising.
Dallas and Batyn strode right past Gitt’s personal assistant in the outer office of Gitt’s suite, ignoring his cries that Gitt was in a lunch meeting and couldn’t be disturbed.
“Why couldn’t you get it?” Sulu demanded. “My plans hinge on that generator?”
Cullers took a deep breath before speaking. “I’m sorry, Admiral. We ran into…”
The door to Gitt’s office began to open suddenly.
“Please hold,” Gitt said quickly as the Bolian slapped his hand down on the comm’s hold button and rose from his seat. He was quite ready to give his assistant a thorough lashing for barging in like this.
But the sight of the woman charging into his office stopped him before he could utter a sound.
“Afternoon, Admiral,” she said, Batyn stepping in behind her.
“A-a-agent Dallas,” Gitt said, trying to get his composure. Batyn couldn’t help but notice that the eyes of the Asian admiral beside Gitt widened in surprised upon hearing Dallas’ name.
“Reporting for duty,” Dallas said, handing Gitt a padd with a copy of the order releasing her from Tantalus V. “Actually, I’ve already been on duty. I’ll have my report from Waystation for you in the morning.”
“Waystation?” Gitt asked weakly.
“I am expecting additional material from Captain Beck once the prisoners have been thoroughly interrogated.”
“Hey. I was right about the Flarn, wasn’t I?” Dallas said with a smirk. “It’s good to be back. We’ll be working if you need us.” Dallas headed out of the office again without waiting for Gitt to reply.
“I guess you just can’t keep a good psycho down,” Batyn said with a shrug, turning to follow his partner.
Gitt slumped back down in his chair as Sulu reopened the commlink. Adrian Cullers snapped back to attention.
“You see,” Cullers said. “We ran into…”
“Samantha Dallas,” Admiral Sulu said.
“Yes. Mendrini and the T’Falls are in custody, and frankly we’re lucky Waystation’s captain didn’t decide to hold us all.”
“Yes, lucky,” Gitt said. “At least the Crazy Condors will be able to continue their other work for us, Condor Leader. Perhaps they can try for the generator again later.”
“No,” Sulu said. “They will not. Obviously, the Crazy Condors are incapable of handling an operation this delicate.”
“With all due respect, Condor Leader. We couldn’t have known Dallas would get involved,” Cullers said.
“Which is exactly why I intend to contract with people who are more capable of dealing with unexpected developments,” Sulu replied. “Good day, Condor 98.” Sulu nodded at Gitt, who closed the comm channel, silencing Cullers’ protests.
“Do you have someone in mind, Condor Leader?” Gitt asked.
“A pair of Vulcans I am aware of,” Sulu said. “But I am more concerned about Dallas. How did she escape Tantalus V?”
“She didn’t. She was ordered released…by Admiralty order. The actual name of the admiral authorizing the release has been sealed in Dallas’ medical records.”
“I want to know who,” Sulu said, rising from his seat and striding toward the door. “I’m relying on you, Gitt. Take care of things.”
“I always have,” Gitt replied confidently. Sulu nodded in acknowledgment, then headed out of the office.
Once Sulu was gone, Gitt put his head in his hands and groaned. Dallas was back. And things had been so pleasant for the last eighteen months. Oh well. Time to pull out some more pain-in-the-ass cases for her and the Blackened Trout to deal with.
“That went well,” Dallas said as she and Batyn headed into the Starfleet Intel Headquarters transporter center.
“Definitely. Admiral Gitt looked appropriately shocked and alarmed. So did the other guy.”
“Didn’t notice,” Dallas said. “Who was he?”
“I’m not sure. He wasn’t Intel, though. I’m fairly positive of that.”
“Well, Admiral Gitt’s meal companions are none of our affair.”
“Speaking of, how did your dinner with Lieutenant Russell go? I was surprised you even went.”
“He helped us quite a bit,” Dallas replied. “I felt I owed him at least that much.”
“It was a dinner.”
“What about after? Any Breen lingerie involved?”
“That,” Dallas said stepping up onto a transporter padd, “is none of your affair.”
“Shut up, Batyn. Energize.”
Batyn suppressed a smile at Dallas as the transporter locked on. As much as it surprised him to admit it, it was good to have her back.
Somewhere out there, Admiral Earl Wyndham waited for the Condor King to make his next move.