Author: Brendan Chris
<Voice of Lieutenant Stern>
“Um, you want me to do a voice-over? I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. I mean, I’m a pretty minor character here, usually only the big stars get to do the voiceovers. Oh, you’re right. They’re either unconscious or on their way to Matria. Good point. So, do I get a pay raise for doing this?”
Lieutenant Stern suddenly found himself hanging naked from chains in the dungeon of Ming the Merciless as poisonous snakes slithered towards his helpless form.
“Wait! Wait! I take it back! I don’t need a pay raise! I’m happy with things as they are! I’ll do the voice-over too, anything you say!”
And Lieutenant Stern found himself back on Silverado, sitting in Main Engineering, the snakes nothing but a bad memory.
“Oh, thank God! Um, the voice-over. Right. Can I have my cloths back?”
“Last time on Star Traks: Silverado, the crew received a distress call from their old friends, the ever sexy, ever bang-able drop-dead gorgeous Senousians. Rushing to their defense they found an entire fleet of Matrian ships waiting for them. Silverado managed to fight off most of the enemy ships before being boarded. Contrary to what Stafford and his crew believed, the Matrians were not after Dr. Wowryk. Instead they kidnapped Lt. Cmdr. Simon Jeffery and took him to the Matrian homeworld.”
“While Noonan leads a combined force of Senousians and Starfleet officers on a rescue mission, Captain Stafford, Dr. Wowryk and even the Silverado herself work to infiltrate the Matrian Dreamland, a virtual reality maintained by the Matrian Spatial Interphase Devices.”
Silverado hung in space, hiding in the shadow of a small planetoid near the boundary of Matrian space. Her nacelles were dark, except for tiny sparks as repair crews worked to repair the damage caused by the Matrian cruisers. One nacelle was missing a section of its warp plasma grill, the other showed blackened sections of hull where the Matrian weapons had started to penetrate the ship’s failing shields. The engineering section was relatively undamaged, except for the lower surface. Here a phaser array had been completely destroyed and the hull had been breached. Another repair team was working to shore up the damaged hull sections. The saucer section had easily taken the worst beating; a large chunk was missing from the outer rim of the saucer where the starboard airlock assembly and about half of the officer’s dining hall had been blasted away, as though some giant had taken a large bite out of the ship. A series of blackened hull plates gave testimony to the number of shots that had started to force their way through the ship’s shields.
No repair crews scurried over the damaged saucer however; any who had tried would have found themselves unconscious in seconds. In Science Lab One a Matrian Spatial Interphase Device had been activated, generating a bubble around the saucer that forced any humanoid life-forms within it into the artificial dream reality created by the Matrians.
Lieutenants Stern and Sage worked feverishly in Main Engineering, coordinating repair teams, scanning for enemy vessels and hoping that Commander Noonan would show up with reinforcements soon. They were somewhat hampered by the fact that the ship’s normally vocal computer had gone into the cybernetic equivalent of a coma. Ensign Burke was tapping at a side console, trying to figure out what was wrong with it.
“Wasn’t Fifebee supposed to check in with us by now?” asked Stern. Jane Fifebee, being the ship’s only holographic officer, should have been immune to the effects of the SID and was to act as the link between the now off-limits saucer and the crewmembers still in the engineering section.
“Hold on,” Sage said. He started tapping at his panel, trying to use the computer backups in the engineering section to get some information from the now-comatose main computer core in the saucer. “Her program is running, but the holo-relay interface is offline. Her program is showing tons of activity but the signals don’t really seem to be going anywhere.”
“Isn’t that the problem we’re having with the main computer core?” Stern asked Burke.
“Yeah,” Burke replied, “It’s like somebody who’s fallen asleep; all the automatic functions are working fine but we can’t get it to respond to us.”
“So you’re saying our computer is sleeping?” Stern asked.
“Well, it was only an analogy-“ Burke started.
“And maybe dreaming?” Stern interrupted. Burke paused, thinking of the strange problems they had been having with the computer’s personality profile and bio-neural gel-packs for the past several months.
“Oh shit,” he muttered.
“This is not good,” Stafford groaned to himself as he paced the courtyard of Castle Wowryk, “This is really not good!”
“You always were such a worry-wart,” sighed the ship’s computer, placing her hands on her hips. She? It? Them? What pronoun did you use with a computer? She/it was wearing the body of Catherine Stafford, the captain’s mother. A middle-aged woman with relatively short blond hair and an air of good cheer, she wasn’t a very threatening presence. Still, Stafford glared at her/it and turned back to Fifebee.
“How the hell did this happen?’ he demanded.
“I suspect that our previous encounter with the damaged Matrian SID has left the computer’s bioneural gel-packs susceptible to the M-SID’s influence,” Fifebee said.
“Yes, thank you for the techno-babble,” Stafford growled, “That explains why YOU are here. But what about her? She’s a computer! She’s not supposed to think she’s my mother, she’s not supposed to talk to us unless we tell her to, and she sure as hell should NOT be in here walking and talking!”
“Captain,” Fifebee sighed, “face the facts. The computer was programmed with the personality of your mother. Due to the fact that our computer software was not equipped with the proper safeguards needed to safely use bio-neural circuitry, that profile wound up running on a chunk of brain cells. That alone was enough to bring her to the very cusp of self-awareness, as we have seen demonstrated on several occasions. The M-SID’s influence pushed her right over the edge!”
“In other words,” Lieutenant Jall piped in “Congratulations! You now have the Federation’s first sentient starship!”
“Whoop de-f**king-doo!” someone muttered.
Stafford glared at Jall, clenching his fists.
“You wanna see how death works in THIS reality, asshole?” he demanded.
“Gentlemen,” Wowryk broke in, “I will have none of that behavior! We are here to locate my beloved Simon, not to bicker over petty technological matters!”
Stafford took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.
“You’re right,” he turned to Fifebee, “We’ll deal with this later. I remember a report that stated that the Enterprise-D had started to gain self-awareness, but they were able to stop it Maybe we can use that.”
“That was due to an alien entity and had nothing to do with the ship’s computer,” Fifebee stated, “I doubt it will help us. Also, there are ethical questions as to whether or not we should interfere.”
“We’ll talk about it later,” Stafford seethed, seeing an angry expression starting to form on Wowryk’s face.
“Well,” the computer said, “I for one am glad to be up and about! It’s very nice to be traveling among the stars, but it can be very boring sometimes.”
Stafford rolled his eyes while Wowryk turned to address the computer.
“Have you decided on a name for yourself, yet?’ she asked, “Silverado really isn’t much of a name for a lady,”
“NO!” Stafford exploded, “You don’t name it! Once you name it, you start getting attached to it!”
“I’ll have to think about it,” replied the computer, “And just ignore Chris, he sometimes gets cranky when things don’t go his way.”
“Can we move on from this topic, PLEASE?” grumbled T’Parief.
“Yes, let’s,” said Stafford. He turned to Wowryk, “We need to let somebody on the outside know that everything is going according to plan. Mostly. Can you release somebody long enough for them to tell Stern what’s happening?”
“Easily,” Noel said with a smile, “Who shall I send?”
Stafford started to point to the computer but Fifebee spoke up before he could voice his opinion.
“I will go. I can quickly project myself to engineering, inform them of the situation and then return.”
“Fine,” Stafford said.
Wowryk gave a quick flick of her hand. Fifebee vanished as she was sent back to the real world.
Commander Noonan sat in the cockpit of the runabout Asessippi as his small fleet approached Silverado. To either side of the runabout flew Silverado’s three Type-9 shuttles; the Camero, the Charger and the Avalanche. The Senousian cruiser Klitor flew along side a captured Matrian scout ship, which Ensign Menzies had dubbed the P.O.S. Broomstick. The runabout and the shuttles were still in perfect shape, but the two larger ships had battle damage on several sections of their hulls. The hasty repairs made back at Senous had held the ships together so far, but Noonan wasn’t willing to trust that they would keep holding for long unless the Senousian crews had a chance to finish more repairs.
Fortunately, that was the plan. The shuttles had served their purpose in supporting Noonan as he, Pysternzykz, Menzies and Glenn helped the Matrians get the two ships ready to fly and had escorted them to Silverado’s hiding place. Now they would help the two larger ships guard Silverado while the captain infiltrated Dreamland. Stafford and Wowryk would try to find Jeffery and free him from the fake reality while Noonan himself would be trying to sneak onto Matria Prime in an attempt to rescue Jeffery’s physical form.
“Silverado to Asessippi,” came the voice of Lieutenant Stern.
“Noonan here,” he replied.
“I’m sure glad to see you! The Captain’s already gone in. Lieutenant Fifebee just came back to give us a report. You might wanna come talk to her.”
“Back? She left?”
Noonan beamed over to Silverado, leaving Asessippi sitting nearby. The other ships had taken up protective flanking positions around Silverado. Lieutenant Fifebee quickly relayed recent events to Noonan and the other officers. Noonan was fascinated by the computer’s new state, Burke was just relieved to finally know what was going on.
“You’re orders are the same,” Noonan said finally, “Stay here until the Captain returns from Dreamland, unless we call for retrieval. We may encounter difficulty, in which case your assistance may be required.”
“Um,” Sage spoke up, “It’s going to take weeks before we’re fully repaired. You do realize that, right?”
“Of course I do,” Noonan said, a hint of annoyance in his voice, “But as I recall, you said you had restored shields and most weapons.”
“Then that is that. I will leave immediately. Ensign Pysternzyks and Prefect Lashette will accompany me.”
“You’re taking a Senousian??” Fifebee asked.
“Given the nature of the Matrian Empire, we may need a female presence. Don’t forget as well that the Senousians have a much larger stake in this than we do.” Noonan turned to Fifebee, “Return to Dreamland and assist the Captain. Also, please tell Silverado I said hello.”
“Are you sure you’re feeling OK?” Yanick was asking Wowryk.
“Of course, dear,” Noel replied with a smile, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you’re being all kind, and happy and stuff,” Yanick muttered.
“This is such a beautiful place,” Wowryk smiled, “The trees, the grass, the birds. All my friends are here too. Except for Simon,” The smile faded slightly.
“So where are the she-bitches?” asked Jall, “I mean, shouldn’t they notice that a great big castle and about three hundred people have suddenly appeared in their realm?”
“I have not yet connected us to the Matrian Network,” Wowryk said calmly, “I felt it would not be prudent. The Captain and I will enter the Matrian Dreamland when he is ready. You will all stay here and wait for my signal.”
“But you can tell there’s a Matrian network?” T’Parief asked, his eye narrowing.
Wowryk tilted her head for a moment and looked thoughtful.
“Now that I know what to look for, I can sense a…connection?” she frowned, “No. More like a potential. This device is designed to respond to my thoughts and desired, so by wanting to know how to link to the network, that knowledge came to me. Even if I don’t entirely understand it.”
“Wonderful. We’re doomed! Who put you in charge anyway?” snapped Jall.
Wowryk made a small gesture. Chains immediately slithered up from the ground, binding Jall’s wrists and ankles.
“Noel,” Stafford ordered, “that’s enough. Let him go.”
Wowryk nodded and the chains fell.
“I’m in charge,” Stafford said firmly, “but Noel is in control of this reality and understands more about the Matrian way of thinking than any of us. Her plan sounds good.”
There was a small pop as Fifebee appeared. She turned to Stafford.
“Commander Noonan is departing for Matria Prime. Repairs on the ship are continuing and the Senousians are keeping guard for us.”
“Excellent,” Stafford turned to Wowryk, “Whenever you’re ready…”
“Wait,” called the computer, “I should come too!”
“What?” Stafford asked, “Why?”
“I have ‘memories’ of all the sensor data collected on the Matrians,” she replied primly, “I also have a faster reaction time then either of you.”
“Fifebee has the same advantages, let’s take her,” Stafford snapped.
“Fifebee needs to stay here,” Noel pointed out, “she’s our best link to the outside world.”
“We are NOT taking-“
“Listen here young man!” the computer snapped, “Between battles with pirates, battles with aliens and having half my systems shorted out by a plumbing accident, I think I’ve been very understanding so far! Now, if I want to contribute in some other way that doesn’t involve physical damage I think you owe it to me let me help!”
Stafford fought to come up with a comeback.
“C’mon,” Jall goaded, “tell her who’s boss and get going!”
“Oh fine!” Stafford said, “I never could say no to Mom anyway,” he muttered under his breath.
“That’s better, honey.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“Oh, this is just going to be ounces of fun,” Jall muttered.
“If you’re coming with us,” Wowryk said, “You will need a name, even if it’s just for now. The Matrians will be suspicious if we keep calling you ‘computer.’
“How about Sylvia?” the computer asked.
“Oh, that’s subtle!” Stafford rolled his eyes.
“Play nice,” Wowryk admonished him, “Time to go.” She concentrated, then thrust her arms forward, fingers splayed as though she were pushing against a wall. At the entrance to the castle, where the drawbridge led to the grassy plains outside, a large swirling vortex appeared. As Wowryk drew her arms back the vortex settled until the castle gate was filled with a shimmering doorway. Gasps of awe escape from the crowd as the image became clearer.
The doorway opened onto a plateau overlooking a Matrian city. It was like something out of a fairy tale. On the outskirts, small houses with perfectly manicured gardens sat facing the streets leading into the city. No vehicular traffic could be seen; instead everybody was walking on foot. Small trees lined the streets and a crystal clear river meandered gently as it flowed deeper into the city. As one moved deeper into the city the small houses were replaced by larger homes then huge mansions, each painted in light, cheery pastel colours. Trees and flowers grew in abundance in small parks that dotted the landscape. At the center of the city was a massive palace that, although of alien design, managed to made Castle Wowryk look like a cardboard box; it’s dozens of pure white towers and turrets reaching for the sky. Birds sang, small furred creatures scampered about and a few fish even jumped from the stream.
Looking at the base of the castle, Stafford could see that the river actually flowed into the castle, although why he couldn’t imagine. Wowryk and Sylvia joined him at the threshold of the portal.
Stafford turned to Wowryk, who was standing in place, stiff as a statue.
<Who is it?> asked a light, musical voice in Wowryk’s head. Wowryk panicked for a moment. This she hadn’t anticipated, contact with the Matrians. She had been hoping to sneak unobtrusively into their city. Thinking fast, she answered.
<My name is, um, Marienne,> she thought back, <I’ve been away for a bit, I’m just returning now.>
<Welcome back to paradise, Marienne,> came the voice, <Please be sure your male behaves while he is within the city. Remember, a man may be loved, so long as he obeys his Mistress. This is a recording.>
Wowryk realized that Stafford was calling her name.
“Sorry,” she said shakily, “I was talking to, um, something . I think it was a recording I triggered when I connected to the Matrian world.”
“They know we’re here?” Stafford asked, panicked.
“They know you and I are here. They don’t seem to know about the rest of the crew or Sylvia. I told them I was a coming back after being gone for a while. The system welcomed me and reminded me to be sure that you behave.”
“That I behave?” Stafford asked, puzzled.
“Y’know the signs you see in the park, reminding you to pick up after your dog?” Wowryk asked.
“Something like that, I guess.”
Stafford gave her an annoyed look, then turned to Jall.
“Stay here and wait for further orders,” he said. He turned to Noel and nodded.
Noel, Stafford and Silvia stepped through the portal and into the Matrian world.
Commander Noonan sat in the co-pilot’s seat of the runabout Asessippi as Ensign Pysternzyks guided the small vessel through Matrian space.
“Contact at 285 mark 4,” Noonan reported, “Matrian scout ship.”
“Altering course,” Pysternzykz replied as he guided the runabout away from the Matrian vessel.
Using the runabout’s superior sensors, Noonan and Pysternzykz had evaded three Matrian ships so far. All three of the previous ships had been tiny patrol vessels that even Asessippi could have blown to pieces. However, since the plan was to sneak onto Matria Prime, Noonan had decided to avoid announcing their presence by blowing things up.
“I estimate we will arrive at Matria Prime in thirty minutes at this rate,” hissed the Andorian officer.
“I see. Very well. Notify Prefect Lashette. I will start scanning for human life signs as soon as we are within range.”
“That will not help,” stated Pysternzykz flatly, “Matrians are too similar to humans for us to be able to detect Jeffery from orbit.”
“We don’t know that,” Noonan said, “for all we know, all the Matrians we’ve encountered so far could be captives like the Senousians. We may not have encountered an actual Matrian yet.”
“I doubt it,”
“Very well, Ensign, your point is well taken. We will scan for Jeffery from orbit. If we cannot locate him we will beam down and attempt to locate him that way.”
“And die in the attempt?” the Andorian asked hopefully.
“I doubt it.”
“That’s funny,” Ensign Burke muttered to himself.
“What is it?” Stern asked, concerned.
“I just found this joke about a Klingon, a Ferengi and a bottle of soy sauce.” Burke replied.
Stern rolled his eyes.
“Next time it better be something important!” he snapped.
“I’m also picking some kind subspace carrier wave. It just popped up.”
“Any idea what it is?”
“Nope. Hey, you wanna hear the joke?”
“No!” Stern snapped, “Well, Ok. But quickly.”
“Ok!” Burke turned to him eagerly, “So there’s this Klingon…”
“Turn left! Now!” Noonan barked.
“I am turning left!”
“Your OTHER left, Ensign!”
The runabout banked and weaved as Pysternzykz fought to keep them out of sight of the six cruisers orbiting Matria Prime. They had gotten close to the planet by hiding in the shadow of the planet’s smallest moons and were proceeding to dart closer, hiding behind derelict ships and abandoned stations and working hard not to be seen. Finally, Pysterzykz landed them on the upper surface of an egg-shaped station that Noonan believed was once used to construct scout ships.
Noonan, Pysternzykz and Lashette looked out the forward windows of the runabout as Matria Prime slowly rotated beneath them.
Most the planet was unremarkable. Vast oceans covered about two thirds of the planets surface. A very small axial tilt meant that seasons on Matria were all but non-existent.
Several things about the planet were very unusual, however. Pysternzykz had detected massive cities across the planet’s two continents, but only six of the cities seemed to be inhabited. Scans of the remaining cities showed abandoned, empty neighborhoods, decaying buildings and cracked roads. Piles of rubble marked the remains of several more cities that had evidently been destroyed.
The abandonment didn’t end with the planet. Noonan and Pysternzykz had identified fifteen moderate-to-large space stations, shipyards and research facilities, only six of which were still in use. There were also dozens of Matrian ships in various stages of disrepair. Noonan could see signs that several of the derelict ships appeared to be in the midst of repairs, possibly in preparation to bring them back into service.
“This really isn’t what I was expecting,” Noonan admitted.
“From the decay rate I would guess that the empty cities have been abandoned for about a century,” stated Lashette. Noonan and Pysterzykz looked at her in surprise.
“What?” she grumbled, “You think a politician can’t do anything but listen to whining idiots all day? I DID go to university, you know!”
“Start scanning for human life signs,” Noonan ordered Pysterzykz. He turned to Lashette, “What do you think happened down there?” he asked.
“Obviously their population has declined,” she said, “There could have been a war, a plague or maybe they can’t make babies anymore.”
“I am getting something, Commander,” Pysterzykz reported.
“I don’t think so. I am reading a very large concentration of low-level life signs beneath one of the cities. I am also reading hundreds of active M-SIDs scattered through the inhabited cities.”
“But no Jeffery?” Noonan asked.
“Not that I can detect.”
“Very well. Lashette and I will beam to the surface. You will remain here. Maintain radio silence except in an emergency, flee if you are detected.”
“Question?” Lashette asked.
“How do you expect me to be of any use to you if there’s an M-SID running down there? Won’t I just pass out?”
“Excellent question,” Noonan nodded, “First, many of the life signs in the city are conscious, indicating that not everybody is being subjected to the dream reality. Second, I can modify one of our transporter beacons to emit a subspace bubble similar to the one we used to protect Silverado. Though it will be weaker, and the power supply quite limited.”
“Just checking,” Lashette muttered.
Noonan and Lashette materialized in a dark alleyway in the largest of the Matrian cities dressed in nondescript clothing. Looking quickly around them to ensure that their arrival hadn’t been noticed, they eased carefully onto the street.
Several of the buildings were obviously unoccupied, yet none were in states of disrepair. Indeed, males of a variety of sizes and descriptions moved quickly as they went about ensuring that each building, each slab of sidewalk and each section of the street was in perfect condition. As they watched a large surface vehicle filled with produce ambled down the street from the direction of the city limits, heading towards the center of the city. The few restaurants and bars in sight appeared to be completely closed down, but looked ready to reopen at any time. Indeed, the whole neighbourhood felt like it was being kept ‘ready to reopen.’
Half a block down, Noonan could see a crowd of men gathered around a fallen figure. Easing closer he started to tap at his tricorder.
“The collapsed person is under the effects of the M-SID,” he muttered to Lashette.
“You mean he’s in Dreamland?”
The figure stirred, then started to sit up. The crowd hushed and gathered closer.
A look of pure joy broke over the fallen man’s features.
“They’re pleased with me,” he whispered, “They are pleased with the work we’ve done!”
A loud cheer went up from the crowd as they buoyed the man onto their shoulders and carried him away. The workmen on the street joined in with cheers of their own as the crowd rushed by.
“I wish I could get that kind of devotion from my mate,” Lashette muttered.
Cupping his tricorder close to his body, Noonan scanned the area.
“I am picking up human life signs,” he said, “towards the center of the city.”
“Let’s go then.”
Stafford, Wowryk and Sylvia arrived successfully in the Matrian Dreamland. Wowryk quickly conjured up a disguise for their portal before leading the way into the city.
Stafford walked behind Wowryk and ‘Sylvia’, fuming. Wowryk apparently was perfectly happy to accept the computer as a sentient individual, but Stafford definitely wasn’t. Computers in Starfleet often appeared to be relatively intelligent, but it was all programming. There was no actual ‘awareness’. It couldn’t even be proven whether holograms or androids were truly achieving sentience or just mimicking it. Not that he would ever say that to Fifebee. He had to admit that Fifebee really did seem real to him.
But the computer was a simulation of his mother. How could a simulation become real? It couldn’t! End of story. Sylvia was nothing more than a hiccup in the computer’s gel-pack.
“As a physician,” Wowryk was saying, “it’s my duty to heal my patients. Most whine constantly about the pain. When the ship is damaged, do you experience pain as well?”
“Nope,” Sylvia answered cheerfully, “I mean, I am aware of the damage. I can ‘feel’ power conduits shorting out, hull plates breaching and circuits being destroyed, but I wouldn’t call it pain. It’s just data.”
“Lucky you,” Stafford muttered, “then I guess you won’t feel a thing when I rip every gel-pack out of that damned computer core!”
Sylvia looked extremely hurt. Wowryk pulled Stafford roughly to the side.
“Captain,” Wowryk admonished angrily, “that was very inappropriate. Would you say something like that to your real mother?”
“Of course not! My mother is a saint!” Stafford snapped.
“And how would she feel if you told her you planned to kill her?”
“That’s not my mother! You can’t kill something that’s not alive!”
“Answer the question!”
Stafford said nothing.
“You need to watch it, Christopher,” Wowryk warned, “You may have your doubts about her sentience, but I don’t. I can feel her in the network as well as I can feel you! And you need to realize that the personality profile of your mother doesn’t just mean cute phrases, her external appearance and a tendency to force the crew to overeat! She loves you like a son and your behavior is really hurting her.” Wowryk smiled as a tall woman in a green dress glided by. The woman, seeing that Wowryk was ‘disciplining her male’, nodded and smiled approvingly before moving on.
“It’s not the same,” Stafford insisted, “I have a mother, and I love her. This MACHINE can’t expect to get the same treatment as my real mom!”
“Maybe not. But that’s no excuse for you to be a complete asshole!” Wowryk put her hands on her hips, “You will behave like a proper gentleman, Captain!”
“Or I’ll send you right back to Silverado and find Jeffery on my own!”
“You wouldn’t disobey my orders, would you?” Stafford asked.
Wowryk looked at him coldly.
“Yes, you would,” he sighed. He shook his head angrily then walked over to where Sylvia was patiently waiting.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about what I said. It was inappropriate of me,”
Sylvia looked at Stafford. He could see the pain in her eyes, but she said nothing as she gestured for them to continue on their way.
As they continued to walk down the street they saw several unusual happenings that only emphasized the point that they were in an artificial dream world. One woman was reorganizing her lawn decorations, but rather than carrying them around she was using her powers to rearrange everything. The effect was almost Disney-like, with garden gnomes, decorative rocks and even a wishing well dancing around like puppets. Well-dressed, dignified looking women walked the streets. Some were accompanied by men, most were alone or talking cheerfully with other women. As they approached the palace, the group from Silverado noticed that the dresses became fancier, the shops and homes more elaborate and the atmosphere closer to the rigid monarchy of Queen Wowryk and her Sisters of the Realm. Even the male slaves were sporting more elaborate dress as they obediently followed their mistresses.
“What’s the plan?” Stafford asked quietly, “don’t tell me you’re just going to waltz into the palace!”
“Actually,” Wowryk answered, “it is. They don’t recognize us, so we go in to pay our respects and then hatch a plan to get Jeffery out, if he’s in there anyway.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Stafford hissed, “what if-“
“Quiet!” Sylvia snapped. Stafford noticed that several of the women on the street had stopped to stare openly at the ‘slave’ who was speaking less than respectfully to his mistress. Even the male slaves were shocked.
Wowryk immediately turned to Stafford. With a snap of her fingers she conjured up a gag that quickly wrapped itself around Stafford’s mouth.
“He’s new,” she said to the onlookers with a nervous laugh, “Still learning the ropes, y’know?”
Noonan and Lashette found themselves at the entrance to a massive concrete structure. No less than twelve guards stood along the short tunnel leading into the building.
“I’m not sure what this is,” Noonan said to Lashette, “But it looks important.”
“Great,” Lashette murmured back, “so how do we get in?”
Mikal 212 gasped in shock as the women approached him. A woman! In the real world! Amazing!
“M’Lady,” he gasped as he dropped to one knee before Lashette.
“Greetings,” Lashette said coolly, “My manservant and I wish to enter. Let us in.”
“Of course, M’Lady. Please state the clearance code, and we will be only too happy to obey.”
Noonan whispered in Lashette’s ear.
“Genesis of the Realm,” she said confidently. The guard bowed and opened the door, allowing Lashette and Noonan to enter.
“How the hell did you know that?” Lashette hissed as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Easy,” he replied, “It was forefront in his mind.”
“You’re a mind-reader?”
“Very limited telepathy. It comes in handy sometimes.”
They continued to follow the wide corridor deeper into the structure. Noonan saw no doors or windows. The walls were cold, grey granite with rounded red marble pillars every ten feet. A series of images hung, depicting figures locked in battle.
“I wonder if these are artwork, or if they represent some historical event?” Noonan muttered to himself.
“I just hope those people had a good doctor around when the fighting was done!” replied Lashette.
“That was very masterful, the way you handled your male,” the woman was saying.
“Thank you,” replied Noel with a smile.
Gingel was the woman’s name. She had come up to talk to Noel shortly after she had finished quieting Stafford.
“How long have you had him?” she asked. She didn’t speak to Stafford; rather she eyed him as one might eye a moderately interesting zoo specimen. She didn’t even seem to notice Sylvia.
“Oh, a few weeks,” Noel said, “We’ve been away for a while. He’s still a bit rough around the edges, but I’m sure with proper training he’ll be just fine.”
“Indeed,” Gingel beamed, “Are you on your way to see Mistress Laurette?”
“I was hoping to see her,” Wowryk said, assuming Mistress Laurette was the woman in charge. She was getting very close to the palace, after all.
“Then you simply must come with me!” Gingel insisted, “She loves getting news of the outside world. Sure, we bring men in all the time, but a woman’s viewpoint is always welcome.”
“Thank you,” Wowryk said with a smile. Gingel motioned for them to follow her. Stafford walked behind the women, careful not to draw any more attention to himself.
“So, how are conditions outside?” Gingel was asking, “Are they as promising as the men tell us?”
“Um, things are definitely looking good,” Noel said.
“I hear several ships were lost,” Gingel said.
“Well, other than that,” Noel replied nervously. She really had no idea what things were like for the Matrians. Silverado hadn’t even entered Matrian space.
They walked in silence for a few moments. Finally, Wowryk spoke again.
“I understand a man was taken from the Federation ship,” she said carefully.
“Oh, yes,” Gingel said with a slight sneer, “The Mistress’s new toy. Honestly, why couldn’t she choose a Matrian male? Or even a Senousian? What is the point in antagonizing an entirely new alien race just to get a man?”
“Good points,” Wowryk said absently. Inwardly, she cheered. Jeffery was here! In the castle! He was also apparently the Mistress’s new man/slave/who-knows-what, but he was here!”
Stafford continued to follow as Noel and Gingel continued to talk about nothing in particular. His heart started racing as topics such as the ‘outside world’ and ‘the new man’ came up; he was concerned that Wowryk would inadvertently reveal something she shouldn’t. He was relieved that they at least knew where Jeffery was. He noticed that they were approaching the castle gates. Surprisingly enough, there were no guards. No security personnel. Not even a bloody receptionist! The women walked past the gleaming white stone blocks and under a huge archway leading to the castle entrance.
Inside, they followed what felt like miles of stone hallways, each one covered with tapestries, paintings and other objects d’arte. Finally, they emerged into a massive throne room.
Stafford finally understood why the river ran into the castle. Looking down from the entrance to the massive room he could see it running into a large pool directly beneath him, a stone bridge crossing to the pool’s edge. The bridge changed to a series of steps going down towards the center of the room while the water poured down from four shell shaped spouts into another pool that surrounded the central platform on which the thrones sat. Behind the thrones the river continued out of the room, flowing out a tunnel directly beneath another set of doors. Above the pools to either side were benches filled with women in expensive-looking attire. Obviously, these were the crème de la crème of Matrian society. Gingel, Noel, Stafford and Sylvia descended the steps to wait before the empty thrones.
A light chime sounded as the large doors opened, revealing a tall, beautiful woman. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders, accentuating her perfect breasts and slim figure. She wore a form-fitting outfit of pure white with faint black highlights. A crown of gold filigree sat on her head and a gold scepter topped with a massive diamond was grasped daintily in her right hand. She held Simon Jeffery’s hand in her left hand as she walked towards the throne.
At her first step, the women sitting in the side benches rose as one and immediately brought their hands out as though grasping something. The water in the pool rose, forming a series of fluid shapes; clouds, animals, flowers and even a huge model of the castle materializing as the women used their powers to manipulate the water, paying homage to their leader.
She led Jeffery towards the throne. As she sat the waters calmed, falling back into the pools. Stafford saw with surprise that Jeffery, rather than being chained at the woman’s feet, was seated in the throne next to her. Furthermore, he was dressed in resplendent black cloths; a crown matching the woman’s seated on his head.
“Mistress Laurette,” said Gingel with a bow, “Might I present Noel Wowryk.”
“Thank you, Gingel,” the woman replied. Her voice was firm, authoritative. Yet it was also polite, almost friendly. “You have done well to find her and bring her to me,”
Gingel nodded, while Stafford and Sylvia exchanged worried glances. Find her?
“And greetings to you as well, Captain Christopher Stafford of the Federation Starship Silverado,” Laurette purred.
“Oh, f**k me,” Stafford muttered.
Noonan and Lashette had finally reached the end of the massive corridor, finding an equally large lift. Unlike the corridor, the lift was paneled in glass.
“Where do you suppose this goes?’ Lashette asked.
“Beneath the city, obviously.”
“Any guesses on what we’re going to find?”
“Yes, but I would prefer to wait before speculating. Shall we?” He motioned to the lift.
There were only two buttons. Noonan pressed the lower button. The lift moved down, the stone walls of the shaft rushing by.
After a minute of travel the walls gave way, revealing a huge cavern. Easily three kilometers in diameter, the cavern stretched away in all directions, the lift moving down the center. Staggered terraces led down to a flat plain, in the center of which was a large dome. Conduits and cables of all kinds snaked from around the cavern and into the dome. Hundreds of identical devices were scattered through the cavern; some hanging from the ceiling, others clamped to the walls and still others sitting on the floor. Noonan’s tricorder quickly identified them: Matrian spatial interphase/cortical induction devices. Noonan could also see suspended animation pods lining every terrace. Hundreds. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands.
Each containing a single, unconscious female.
The lift dropped into the dome, blocking their view of the cavern.
“Wow,” Lashette gasped.
“This dome must house the central Matrian computer,” Noonan said, tapping at his tricorder, “The central nexus to all of their M-SIDs. Every Matrian ship, every M-SID on the planet’s surface, every M-SID in this cavern links here. I’m picking up more subspace carrier waves then I though could exist in one place!”
“Any Senousian or human life signs?” Lashette asked.
“One human male,” Noonan replied, “but no Senousians. The only Senousians I’ve detected have been on the surface.”
“I wonder why,”
“Obviously,” Noonan stated, “These women are in the Matrian Dreamland. Judging from the pods they are in, they plan to be there for a long time. Their bodies must be cared for in the real world while their minds exist in Dreamland.
“That’s why the men are up there,” Lashette said, understanding dawning on her face, “The women live in Dreamland, then men maintain the machines, the cities and the ships.”
“More than that,” Noonan replied, “The men provide defense against intruders. And they’re also repairing and maintaining the cities, the ships and the space stations. Why would they do that?”
“Yes,” Lashette said, “Why go to the effort to enslave thousands of my people to repair and defend cities that nobody is going to live in?”
“That is indeed the question,” Noonan said as he stepped out of the lift and into a wide hallway, identical to the one upstairs except for the passages leading deep into the computer systems. At the far end he could see that the hall opened up into the cavern. He immediately started walking towards the exit.
“Where are you gong?” Lashette demanded.
“To look for Mr. Jeffery.”
“Shouldn’t we be figuring out this computer system?”
“Why would we do that?” Noonan asked.
“To shut it down!”
“That would be a violation of the Prime Directive, Prefect,” Noonan stated calmly, “as this is a Starfleet mission, I must require that you adhere to Starfleet regulations.”
“But if we shut down the computers, we’ll free everybody!” Lashette snapped.
“And we would awaken several hundred thousand Matrian women, all of whom are in this chamber. There may be additional chambers, with perhaps millions or even billions of Matrians. Do you really think our odds of escape would be favorable?”
Lashette paused for a moment.
“Let’s see what else we can find,” Noonan said, walking towards the dome exit, his footfalls echoing in the massive chamber.
Mistress Laurette was sitting properly in her throne, an amused expression on her face. Jeffery sat next to her, looking blankly ahead.
“Do you really think I wouldn’t notice your little incursion into our realm?” she asked Wowryk, “Or that I wouldn’t recognize you immediately? I have all of dear Simon’s memories and knowledge; and while I really have no use for the pylon stress tolerances for an Ambassador-class starship, his knowledge of you has been most interesting.” Laurette caressed Simon’s hand. Simon turned to her and smiled, but the gesture was cold, mechanical.
Noel’s throat tightened as she stared back at Laurette. Finally, she spoke.
“Why him?” she demanded, “You’ve attacked our ship and you’ve invaded our space! You’ve sent your machines right to our homeworld! Why is Simon so f**king important!”
“He wasn’t, to begin with,” Laurette said, “I suppose after all the trouble we’ve caused the least I can do is explain!”
“That’s for damned sure!” Stafford said angrily.
“Silence!” ordered Laurette, “You will speak only when spoken to, man!”
“Objection!” called a voice from the side benches, “The Captain is here as a representative of a culture outside of Matrian society that has not yet embraced the purity of femininity. As a representative of said culture he must be allowed to speak freely.”
“Seconder?” asked Laurette with an air of boredom.
“I second,” called another voice.
“Objection sustained,” announced Laurette, “My apologies Captain, the Council has spoken.”
“Right,” Stafford said slowly, “Um, thanks. You were going to explain?”
“Ah, yes,” Laurette said, “Why is Simon so important? Understand, Captain, Doctor, that we’ve been searching this part of the galaxy for a man like Simon. I’m sure you noticed that we don’t have the personnel resources for such a search, so we arranged for our Dream Machines to be distributed to as many races as possible, each one programmed to locate the perfect male.”
While Laurette was talking, Stafford looked at the woman who had voiced the objection. She was petite with blond hair and a pleasing figure, like most of the other Matrians. But while the others were looking at him with combinations of boredom and hostility, her face revealed only curiosity. She smiled slightly at Stafford, who looked away and focused his attention back on Laurette.
“Don’t you have enough men already?” asked Noel, “You’ve kidnapped thousands of Senousians and who knows how many others!”
“But none of them matched our criteria,” Laurette explained patiently, “They’re fine for foot soldiers or workers, but we needed somebody special.” She patted Jeffery on the arm.
“We had very little luck,” Laurette admitted, “We found a few promising candidates, but each in the end proved far too aggressive and assertive for our tastes. And then we discovered the Federation. Right on the fringe of known space, we discovered your Waystation. Finding somebody to distribute our Dream Machines was easy and, miracle of miracles, we received a confirmation signal from one of those devices, telling us the perfect man had been located. Of course, we had no idea how we would actually obtain him from you, but when your ship came practically to our doorstep it was clear that we had been blessed.”
“At which point you decided to attack me, I mean us!” stated Sylvia
“Did somebody say something?” Laurette asked, confused.
“Um, I did,” Noel said, “I said ‘that’s when you decided to attack us’?”
“Oh, yes. Unfortunately, you proved more difficult than we had expected, considering the condition your ship was in when our scout made the initial report. But then you found the Senousians, and it became only too easy to set the trap.”
As Laurette and Noel were speaking, Sylvia and Stafford were exchanging glances. Stafford jerked his head slightly towards Laurette. Taking the hint, Sylvia walked forward and stood right in front of the splendidly dressed Mistress.
Laurette took no notice, rather she continued telling Wowryk about the many brave slaves who had fought to obtain their perfect man for them.
“She doesn’t know I’m here,” Sylvia whispered to Stafford.
“They’ve never had an artificial being in here before,” Stafford muttered, trying hard not to move his lips, “be ready to move if things get ugly. You weren’t with us the first time we were stuck in one of these things, but remember that anything you want, you can make happen.”
“Understood. And I do have the crew logs on that event, you know.”
“But what makes Simon so perfect!” Noel was demanding, frustrated.
“You of all people should know,” Laurete said, the amused look on her face, “The alien who thinks like a Matrian. You know,” Laurette laughed, “there was quite an uproar when we learned about your reaction to the Dream Machine. It was so similar to our own, some thought that we should ‘rescue’ you from the Federation immediately. Of course, that motion was ultimately rejected, but perhaps you might like to consider staying here with us?”
“Why Simon!?” Noel snapped.
“Think about it, my dear. You’re so much like us. What qualities does he possess that you find most appealing?”
Noel thought for a moment.
“He’s kind, intelligent and reasonably attractive,” she said.
“Please! You think we didn’t find thousands of men who met THOSE criteria? Think harder, dear!”
“He’s…obedient,” Noel said finally, “Timid. Non-threatening.”
“And?” Laurette prompted.
“Easy to control,” Noel finished softly.
“Exactly!” Laurette said with a smile, “Look at him! Perfectly docile! He would die for us in an instant!”
“But you have thousands of men like that!” objected Stafford, “How many of them did die attacking us!”
“Excellent point,” Laurette conceded, “And the answer is simple: the Dream Machines. Oh, I know from Simon here that you’ve figured them out. How we use them for control as well as to maintain our realm. But take one of our men out of their sphere of influence, and he reverts. That’s no good to us. We needed a man who would stay loyal to us, Dream Machine or not!”
“Why?” Stafford asked, worry evident on his face.
“Why, to act as our representative, of course,” Laurette smiled, “To lead our forces on their mission of conquest; to establish a bigger, better Matrian Empire throughout this entire sector!”
“So, you’re a power-mad despot with aspirations of galactic domination?” Stafford sighed, “Come on, do you really think you’ve got a chance?”
“Of course not,” Laurette said, “not now! Especially since your single, outdated ship managed to obliterate half our space force. But we’re patient. Our men are working now to repair what ships they can, and to build more. We’ll start expanding slowly, offering new worlds the beauty that is our realm. Simon here will explain to them why our way is better, and if they agree then their women will join us here in Dreamland while their men work to fuel our Empire. If they refuse, we’ll conquer them and add them anyway. We shall be like a snowball, gaining resources and ships slowly at first, then faster and faster until we rival even your Federation!”
“You’re crazy,” Stafford said flatly, “The Federation could put a stop to your plans at any time! You think Silverado did some damage to your fleet? Have you ever seen a Sovereign-class starship? They’re bigger, far more powerful and could kick your talcum-powdered butts into next week!”
“Talcum powder?” Laurette shuddered, “How primitive! Anyway, once we destroy you and your ship the Federation won’t know what’s happening out here, will they? Guards!”
“NOW!” Stafford shouted at Sylvia. The computer/woman immediately brought up her arms, palms up. Responding to her whims, the pools of water leapt into the air and rushed to form a swirling tornado of water around the central platform. A single woman had leapt over the pool at Stafford’s outburst. Stafford saw that it was the petite blond who had spoken in his defense.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” she said sharply.
“Tell me something I don’t know!” Stafford shouted, trying to be heard over the roaring water.
“Who is doing this?” Laurette demanded. She turned, focusing finally on Sylvia, “You! What are you? How did you get here?”
“I’m pissed off is what I am!” snapped Sylvia in reply.
Laurette brought up her hand, directing a harsh bolt of lightening directly at Sylvia. Wowryk reached out, reflecting the bolt back at Laurette and adding a fireball for good measure. Laurette returned fire. Soon the two women were linked by a constant stream of energy, each straining to defeat the other.
“Simon, get him!” Laurette snapped. Jeffery obediently stood and started walking towards Stafford.
“Oh c’mon Simon,” Stafford groaned, “do we really have to go through this again?”
The blond woman directed an energy blast of her own at Laurette, who fell to the side, the burst of energy from Wowryk vaporizing the back of the throne.
“C’mon!” the blond cried.
Wowryk, Stafford and Sylvia followed her as she slipped into the now empty pool and rushed frantically for the tunnel leading out.
“Release the water!” she commanded Sylvia.
Sylvia nodded her head and made a quick gesture. The swirling water in the throne room dropped back into the pools, rushing down the tunnel and washing the escapees down to freedom.
Lauretted climbed back to her feet, taking in the soaking wet carpets, the wet and dripping women and the destroyed paintings.
“Return them to me. Destroy their ship.”
Wowryk, Stafford, Sylvia and the blond slid down the tunnel as the water rushed past them. Stafford was actually enjoying the waterslide ride, until he found himself flying out a spout in the outer palace wall, falling several feet before splashing into a large pond.
“Well, that was fun,” Wowryk fumed, her beautiful white and blue dress a tattered ruin.
“You really haven’t been here long, have you,” said the blond girl. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Seconds later she was dry, her dress returning to its former resplendent condition.
“I’m Krissy, but the way,” she said.
Wowryk and Sylvia quickly copied her, each returning to their previous conditions. Stafford, after a moment, followed suit.
“Thank you for helping us,” Noel said.
“You are welcome,” replied Krissy, “There is much I need to tell you about, but let’s hurry, this is the first place they’ll look.
“Laurette’s plan is insane,” Krissy started. She had led them to a mansion not far from the palace. She assured them that it was owned by a trustworthy friend, and that Laurette wouldn’t think to look there.
“We don’t have the resources to start waging war on this sector,” she continued, “what’s more, we can’t justify the enslavement of tens of thousands of aliens.”
“But what about your own,” Stafford asked pointedly. Krissy hesitated.
“There’s a lot of history you need to know,” she said finally, “I’m not sure where to begin, or what to tell you.”
“Maybe I can help,” Sylvia said gently, “can you give me access to your history databanks?”
“Of course,” Krissy said, “It is done.”
Sylvia’s eyes fluttered briefly as she communicated, computer to computer, with the Matrian historical archives.
When she was finished, she turned to Stafford.
“You’re not going to believe this,” Sylvia said, “But two hundred years ago, the Matrians were a fairly standard warp civilization. They sent their ships on missions of exploration, made contact with new species, developed trade and so forth. Or at least the women did, anyway. Matrian men, it was sad to say, weren’t the brightest crayons in the box, and so to the women went the choice jobs, juicy assignments and fat payrolls. According to the database, sexism wasn’t a factor. On the contrary, any Matrian men who had the brains and the skills were welcomed to peruse any jobs they wanted. Selection was purely matter of skills. The fact that most women were better skilled and more intelligent then the men was the only reason for the discontinuity in the workforce.”
“So, you’re saying the Matrian men were all idiots?” Stafford asked dryly.
“I’m not sure,” replied Sylvia, “History is written by the victor, after all. I can’t tell from these records if the differences between Matrian males and females is fact, or carefully worded lies.”
“So the Matrian males might be idiots,’ Stafford said, “Or they might be even smarter than the women.”
“Or there may be no differne,” Noel muttered.
“One hundred and seventy-five years ago,” Sylvia continued, “a young Matrian captain by the name of Catelith traded Matrian computer core technology for information on genetic engineering from a race called the Endilians. Upon her return home, after nearly five years of debate, it was determined that it was time to elevate the men of Matria Prime to the intellectual level of the women, ending the unfair balance of the sexes. Less than a year later, the first genetically enhanced Matrian male was born. Within months, every male born was a product of the engineering, and as they grew their parents watched with great pride as their sons found themselves to be equal in intelligence and ability to their sisters, mothers and aunts.”
“I guess that has us leaning towards there actually being an imbalance between the sexes,” Stafford mused.
“Let me guess,” Noel said, “Equality wasn’t good enough for them, they decided they were the superior sex and should be given full control of the planet?”
“Doesn’t sound too different from Terran feminists if you ask me!” Stafford shot back.
Sylvia continued her story.
“Unsatisfied with equality, this new race of men quickly began to seek superiority over their female brethren. Matters escalated when six men held an entire school hostage, demanding that they be allowed onto the Matrian Council of Governors.”
“Sounds like the Eugenics Wars,” Noel and Stafford said together.
“Indeed. Man vs. woman, the Matrian ships of exploration quickly became ships of war. Their contact with outside cultures dwindled as they fought each other for dominance over their homeworld. Yet despite their superior numbers, the women couldn’t reign in their male adversaries.”
“Why not?” Noel asked Krissy.
“Compassion,” Krissy answered sadly, “We had created those men. It wasn’t easy for us to fight them.”
“Sensing this hesitation,” Sylvia went on, “the men unleashed weapons of mass destruction upon two of the larger cities. This final act of savagery finally convinced the women that they had no choice but to crush the male forces.
“Within a year Matria Prime itself was in ruins; cities destroyed or damaged, the space stations gutted and ships left derelict. It was then that a group of female scientists discovered how to use spatial distortions to affect the nervous system. Once they made that discovery, it was an easy matter to create devices that would distinguish the brain waves of specific individuals, altering their personalities while leaving other unaffected.
“The war was over in two days,” Krissy said, “and not a single man was harmed.”
“Unfortunately, that didn’t change the fact that their planet was in ruins,” said Sylvia, “The remains of the Matrian Council of Governors gathered for the last time to determine the punishment of the men and the last course of action for the women.
“As the men had been the destroyers, they would now become the rebuilders. Their task; to restore Matria Prime to its former condition. The cities, the ships, the space stations and everything else. The women, in the meantime, would go into suspended animation in a great vault beneath the capitol city, the construction of which was the first task of the men.
“It was estimated that the restoration would take between one and two hundred years. Using the same technology used to create the modified men, the women implemented a plan by which men could be cloned at the same rate at which they died out, maintaining the population balance.”
“One the restoration of Matria Prime was complete; the women would emerge from the vault to live in harmony with their men and to continue their society from where it had been so rudely interrupted.
“Sounds pretty good,” Stafford said, “what went wrong?”
“Probably the men,” Wowryk muttered.
“I bet it was the women!” Stafford snapped.
“Here comes Gender War 2,” muttered Krissy.
“The only problem,” Sylvia said pointedly, “was again the men.”
Wowryk stuck her tongue out at Stafford, who rolled his eyes in disgust.
“More specifically, how the women could reconcile the differences between the sexes.”
Wowryk quickly withdrew her tongue.
“Intelligence in the men had already been bred into a generation,” Sylvia went one, oblivious, “and only more extensive genetic manipulation would be able to return them to their former state. Rather than tamper any more with their bodies, it was decided that before the Great Reawakening, the women would have to select a man, one man, to serve along side the Prime Governor. By having both a man and a woman in power, they hoped to avoid a repeat of the war that had devastated their world. Once the restoration was complete and that man had been found, the women would emerge from their Dreamland and the men, their penance having been paid, could be freed from their mind control devices.
“Wow,” Stafford murmured, turning to Wowryk, “and here I thought you had gender issues!”
Wowryk gave Stafford an annoyed look before turning to Krissy.
“But that’s still a much better plan that establishing an interstellar slave society!” she objected, “what happened?”
“Laurette was elected Prime Governor,” Krissy replied, “About fifteen years ago. She convinced the council that our original plan wasn’t feasible, and that it would be much better to just subjugate all men instead.”
“Oh, so it WAS a woman who caused all our problems,” Stafford grinned, looking at Noel. She ignored him.
“So you decided to enslave men throughout the quadrant just like that? Noel asked.
“Of course not,” Krissy snapped, “We were a peaceful people! It took years of debate before her plan was accepted by the council.”
“But if it was accepted, then what are you doing here helping us?” Sylvia asked.
“Because their plan is wrong,” Krissy said, “Best case scenario, we’ll be forced back to our homeworld when other races start fighting back. Worst case, we’ll be obliterated.”
“I dunno,” Stafford said, “A few well placed M-SIDs and any planet will find themselves welcoming Matrian rule, whether they really want it or not.”
“That’s Laurette’s plan,” said Krissy, “but you and your crew are obvious proof that our Dream Machines aren’t perfect.”
“Oh. So what do we do?”
“We go to Laurette,” Noel said firmly.
“What? We just finished running away from her!” Stafford objected.
“I know. But we have more information now. We have to convince her that their original plan was better.” Noel said.
“You heard her, they debated this for years! What makes you think you can change their minds?”
“I think like them,” Noel said, “And I have an understanding of the outside world. I’m very sure I can bring them around.”
“Very sure?” Stafford said.
“I don’t think we have a choice anymore,” Krissy said tiredly, “Laurette and her guards are at the front door.”
Noonan and Lashette stood over one of the suspended animation pods, Noonan’s tricorder finally returned to his belt.
“It’s Jeffery all right,” he said, surveying the engineer’s unconscious form.
“Good. Let’s wake him up and get out. This place is giving me the creeps.”
“He’s very deeply linked to the Matrian network,” Noonan said, “If we unhook him before he’s properly released, the shock will most likely kill him.”
“So now what?’
“Captain Stafford and Dr. Wowryk are working to free him as we speak.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough!” Lashette said angrily, “We’re here to free people, not stand around waiting!”
“Actually, I am here to do exactly that.”
Lashette’s hand snapped out, gripping the modified transporter beacon attached to Noonan’s shoulder.
“If I shut this down, I’m betting you’ll be on an express trip straight to the Matrian Dreamland. Either help me turn off this computer, or you can go join your friends!”
“No,” Noonan said coldly.
Lashette yanked the beacon. Noonan wavered for a moment, then collapsed to the floor. She proceeded to walk back into the dome housing the computer core.
“Now where the hell is the ‘off’ switch?”
“This is Lieutenant Stern to all vessels, we have incoming! Repeat, we have picked up Matrian ships on a direct course to intercept! Reading three cruisers, four scouts and several patrol ships!” Stern was pacing back and forth in Silverado’s Main Engineering, panicked.
“Recall the repair teams! Status report!” he barked at Ensign Burke.
“Shields are at 100%,” the stocky blond science officer reported, “Weapons are online, but the targeting computer is running on backups. Impulse engines are at 70 %.”
“If we go to warp, we might disrupt the M-SID,” Burke said, “I don’t suggest it, unless you want to turn everybody in the saucer into mindless vegetables.”
“Wasn’t planning on it! Red Alert! Battle stations!”
Ensign Pye was seated at one of the two panels facing the warp core, having tied helm control into that station. Burke was up on the second level running sensors. Stern could see his boot heels though the metal grating that formed to floor of the second engineering level. Stern himself had converted the Master Systems console into a tactical station. Jeffery’s Nicondii engineers were trying hard to work around them, but engineering was becoming far too crowded.
Outside, the captured Matrian scout ‘Broomstick’, the Senousian cruiser Klitor and Silverado’s three shuttles readied themselves for the coming battle.
“We only have to hold until the Captain is done,” Stern said to himself.
Stafford, Sylvia, Noel and Krissy had been dragged back into the throne room, which had been perfectly restored. They found themselves once again surrounded by the Matrian Court with Mistress Laurette seated beside Jeffery on her throne.
“It was very rude of you to leave so abruptly,” Laurette said as the extended her hand towards Stafford, preparing for the killing blow, “I was so enjoying our conversation. Pity.” Before she could make good on her desire to kill him, Wowryk stood in her way.
“Oh please honey,” Laurette said, “As if I wouldn’t kill you too?”
“Wait,” Wowryk said, “Krissy’s told us about what happened! You don’t have to do this! There’s a better way!”
“I don’t think so.”
“Isn’t it true that a woman’s viewpoint is always welcome?” demanded Wowryk, “By your own customs, you must hear me out.”
There were grumbles of assent from the Court. Laurette sighed.
“Fine! But we’ve been over this! Men cannot be trusted!”
“Hold on,” Stafford muttered to Sylvia, “it’s up to Dr. Wowryk to convince them that men are trustworthy and that we shouldn’t be enslaved?”
“Yes, dear,” Sylvia replied.
“Oh,” Stafford groaned, “We are SOOO f**ked!”
“RIGHT Ensign!” Stern shouted at Pye, “I said maneuver RIGHT!”
“I am going right!” Pye objected.
“You’re OTHER right!”
“That would be my left!”
“Look, you’re facing aft, I’m facing fore. You’re left is my right!”
“Isn’t this why we’re supposed to use port and starboard?”
“Starboard! STARBOARD! NOW!” Stern screamed.
Pye yanked Silverado around to starboard as a Matrian cruiser loomed on his sensor readouts. Unable to get out of the cruisers path, Silverado’s saucer struck the cruiser’s lower surface. The ships ground together as the cruiser dragged against the upper port surface of the saucer, ripping up hull plates and smashing the port phaser array. Fortunately nobody was using the HR office as it was vented open to space.
“Dorsal shields are down!” shouted Ensign Frit Naketh, “remaining shields at 30 %! The Broomstick has been destroyed, the Klitor is heavily damaged!”
Silverado shook as another Matrian energy burst splashed against her weakened shields. The Avalanche and the Charger swung around the ship’s warp nacelles, adding their fire to Silverado’s and blowing the Matrian cruiser to pieces.
Two Matrian scouts returned fire, sending the Charger spinning into space and scoring a direct hit on the Avalanche. The shuttle spun out of control, colliding with the Matrian scout and destroying both vessels in a massive explosion.
“We’ve lost the Avalanche!” called Burke.
“‘Like a rock’, my ass!” muttered Stern as the ship shook again.
T’Parief paced the grounds of Castle Wowryk, occasionally glancing towards the archway where the Matrian city was still visible.
“What is taking so long!” he growled.
“Oh, you know those two,” Yanick giggled, “I bet that Noel is trying to convert the Matrians to Christianity! And then, when they try to get to the palace, they’ll get lost, cuz Noel has NO sense of direction, and then Chris will be too stubborn to ask for directions! They probably haven’t even made it halfway to Simon yet!”
“Then what are WE doing?” T’Parief grumbled, “I’m sure we could be far more useful on Silverado.”
“I just checked in with them half an hour ago,” Fifebee interjected, “they were just fine. The odds of something catastrophic happening within those thirty minutes are infinitesimal.
“Stop pacing!” Trish complained to T’Parief, “You’re driving me crazy!”
“And Jall’s pointless prattle about Andorian Razor Sculpture didn’t?
“At least he went off to have some fun with those hot stable boys!” Yanick snapped. She immediately bit her lip, “Oh…oops…”
“Oh please,” sneered Fifebee, “I’m sure everybody has long since figured out Jall’s mating preferences!”
“His what?” asked T’Parief.
“Never mind, handsome,” Trish said, “C’mon, sit down.”
“I cannot,” T’Parief said firmly, “I can’t shake the sense that we’re…missing something.”
Stafford rubbed the bridge of his nose as he watched Noel Wowryk addressing the Matrian Court on the virtues of masculinity. At least she was leaving out her usual vocabulary of ‘primitive, savage, disgusting’, etc.
“Men are not perfect, even on my world,” she began, “Once our world was ruled by them, as yours was ruled by women. However, women proved themselves to be intelligent, independent and in every way man’s equal. It was a long struggle. Some cultures took longer than others, but gender discrimination hasn’t existed on Earth for centuries!”
“And how do the experiences of your world help us with ours?” one woman asked pointedly.
Wowryk dropped her diplomatic look-at-me-I’m-being-friendly-but-convincing tone and glared at the woman.
“I’m trying to demonstrate that man and woman can live together in harmony!” she snapped.
“Maybe on your world,” said Laurette, “but what do you know of our men? How can you decide that we should try to live with them?”
“You ARE living with them!” Wowryk said, switching back in to diplomat mode, “You bring them into Dreamworld! They’re your companions, your confidents.”
“Our servants and our slaves,” Laurette said flatly.
“This doesn’t end with the men on your world!” Wowryk went on, “You’re presuming that NO men are good enough for you! You’ve already enslaved thousands of Senousians. Can you honestly say that you’ve tried living with them? Or any of the other hundreds of races in this part of the galaxy? You have no more right to judge them than I do to judge your men! I understand how you feel, I felt the same way. No man could treat me right, no man could possibly measure up, they were all horny, disgusting, primitive pigs.”
“Oh yeah, she’s really going to convince them with this,” Stafford sighed to Sylvia.
“But I found a man,” Wowryk continued, pointing at Jeffery, “That man! The Federation has a law: the Prime Directive. It states that we can’t interfere with your culture. Fine. Release the Senousians and return Simon to me. If you want to live your lives in this false world, be my guest!
“Are you done?” Laurette asked.
Wowryk took a deep breath.
“Yes, I think I am,” she said.
“Very well. All in favour of accepting Noel Wowryk’s proposal to surrender Master Jeffery and live in reality with our men, say aye.”
Two or three ‘ayes’ were called out from the court.
“All those in favour of conquering the sector?”
This time the answer was deafening.
“I think we’ve reached a decision,” Laurette said with a nasty smile.
Prefect Lashette had found her goal: a control center just within the Matrian computer core. Blowing a layer of dust off the controls, she started tapping at the console.
Several minutes later, she pounded the console in frustration. Dreamland was meant to be shut down from the inside. There was an emergency shut down, but it was heavily encoded. There was no way she could access it without months of hacking.
Lashette searched the room until she found what she was looking for: a heavy steel wrench. Swinging it like a baseball bat, she started her own shutdown procedures.
Everybody in the chamber looked up as the chamber shook. Patches of walls started wavering while pictures and statues flickered in and out like poorly tuned holograms.
“No,” Laurette said softly, turning to Stafford, “What have your people done? The Dream Nexus is shutting down! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE??”
“I don’t know!” Stafford jabbered, “I’ve been here, I didn’t do anything!”
The throne room shook again, several of women in the room vanishing. Those who had been near them screamed in fear.
“No!” one screamed, “I won’t go back! You can’t make me go back!”
Jeffery blinked and looked around.
“Where the hell am I?” he asked.
“Damn!” snapped Laurette, turning to one of her lieutenants and snapping orders, momentarily forgetting the Starfleet officers.
“Dreamland is shutting down,” Wowryk said to Stafford and Sylvia, “The Matrians are being retuned to the real world. All I can sense is that the system has been damaged.”
“Was it Noonan?” Stafford asked.
“I can’t tell,” Wowryk said, “ All I know is, this place is shutting down.”
“And you need to get out!” Krissy broke in.
“Your bodies are back on your ship! You came in from another Dreamland, the one generated by the Dream Machine on your ship! If you’re not back there when the Nexus shuts down, you’ll be trapped in the system when it shuts down!”
“What about you?” Stafford asked.
“We’ll be fine. Thank you for your help. Now take your man and go! I’ll take care of Laurette.”
Stafford bolted over to Jeffery and grabbed him by the arm, hauling him towards the exit while Wowryk and Sylvia tried to conjure up a distraction for Laurette. Unfortunately, the dream reality was no longer taking orders. Nothing happened. But, on the plus side, nothing happened when Laurette tried to incinerate the retreating officers either.
As Lashette walked out of the control room she found herself face to face with Noonan.
“Are you finished?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, “the Dreamland is falling apart, and the SIDs are shutting down. My people will be free in moments. If you’re going to arrest me for violating ‘Starfleet regulations’ then fine! It’s a small price to pay.”
“I don’t intend to arrest you,” Noonan said, “But I suggest we retrieve Jeffery as soon as he is awake and then make a swift exit.”
Dreamland (what’s left of it):
The sky of Dreamland, which had been a sunny blue for over a century, was a seething soup of thick, black clouds. Viscous bolts of lightening ripped into the ground, destroying the buildings and sending the inhabitants running, even as they vanished from Dreamland and awoke in reality. Stafford, Wowryk and Sylvia had made it to the edge of the city, to the portal to Silverado’s tiny Dreamland. Sylvia immediately jumped
“Noel!” Stafford shouted as he and Wowryk dragged Jeffery’s semi-aware body to the edge of the portal.
Stafford dropped his side of Jeffery.
“You need to send him out!”
“Look,” Stafford said, “Jeffery’s body is on Matria Prime! You’ve got to wake him up now!”
“But he’ll be trapped there!” Wowryk cried.
“No! Noonan’s there to rescue him! He’s waiting right now!”
“You can’t possibly know that!” Wowryk shouted over the howling wind, “What if he didn’t make it? What if he was attacked? What if he couldn’t find Jeffery?”
“Look, Noel, if you’re going to trust me on anything, trust me on this! Matthew Noonan is the smartest f**king officer I’ve got! He’s there. If Jeffery’s not in THIS Dreamland when he wakes up, he’s as good as dead!”
Wowryk swallowed as she looked at Jeffery. Stafford stepped through the portal, then turned to watch as Wowryk kissed Jeffery gently on the cheek before closing her eyes and concentrating. Jeffery flickered in and out, but didn’t disappear.
“It’s not working!” she cried, “The system isn’t responding!”
“Look, try from here,” Stafford cried, “We can’t risk losing you! “
“No! Not until I know he’s safe!”
“Get over here!” Stafford snapped, “That’s an order!” he reached over to grab Wowryk’s arm, pulling her through.
As the central Dream Nexus of Matria Prime continued it’s shutdown/crash, it sought to terminate it’s connections with all of the SIDs making up the Matrian network. Thousands of the devices disconnected from the central Nexus, holding their occupants briefly in separate realities as the SIDs themselves failed.
But one SID wasn’t responding. Somebody was halfway through transit between the Nexus and the SID. Safetly protocols prevented the SID from shutting down until the transit was complete, but no safety protocol could slow the rapid crash of the Nexus. As the two systems became disjointed, data was misrouted and vital control lines crossed.
Noonan watched with relief as Jeffery’s body drew in a deep breath.
“He’s unhooked, let’s get out of here!”
Hoisting Jeffery in a fireman’s carry, Noonan led Lashette towards the exit. Around them they could hear the hiss of the suspended animation pods opening, and the groans as the Matrians emerged after over a century. They rode the lift to the surface where a confused crowd of men was forming at the entrance of the complex.
“Noonan to Pysterzykz. Three to beam up.”
“That’s it, shields are down!” Stern called out, as sparks flew from the console. One Matrian cruiser was still left, along with two scouts and several patrol craft. The Klitor drifted to port, a crippled hulk. The Charger and the Camero had barely made it back to the shuttlebays, both heavily damaged. Silverado herself had held up better then expected, with the only severe damage being caused by the collision with the Matrian vessel. But main power was down, several key systems had been damaged and with the shields now completely down, it was only a matter of time. The Matrian ships, having learned from the battle at Senous, knew enough to stay out the phaser cannon’s line of fire which left Stern fighting with conventional weapons only, with only the occasional shot from the much more powerful cannon.
“The M-SID is down!” Burke called up, “Computer core functions are returning to normal! We’re good to go!”
The ship shook again.
“Warp drive is offline,” Pye called out.
“That’s it,” Stern called out, “we’re dead. Nice knowing you everybody.”
“Yeah. Happy honorable death, as Pysterzykz would say.”
The death blow never arrived.
“We’re being hailed,” Burke announced in surprise.
“Let’s here it,” Stern said.
“Unidentified vessel, this is Jecok 34…I mean, this is Chrenzor of the planet Senous. What the hell is going on?”
Stern and Pye exchanged relieved glances.
“How about we all disarm our weapons and talk about it?”
“Wake up, Lieutenant,”
Wowryk shielded her eyes against the light. Her arms felt heavy, and she had the worst case of morning mouth she had ever had.
“Are we out?” she asked.
“Yeah,” crewman Shwaluk said, “you’re out. The Matrian ships are standing down, now that their crews know who they really are. Noonan’s on his way back with Jeffery.
“Ah’m right here,”
It was Jeffery’s accent, but it wasn’t his voice. Wowryk frowned. In fact, it sounded like her voice!
“Did I say…” she trailed off. Her voice had become deeper, stranger.
“Lieutenant Jall, are you OK?”
Worwyk’s hand shot to her chest, which was perfectly flat. Her breasts were gone! Her hand shot immediately to her groin, where a new addition had taken up residence.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 56410.9
“Good news: we’ve finally learned once and for all who the f**king Mistresses/Matrians are, what they wanted, who they wanted, what their plan was and all that bullshit. We’ve also rescued Jeffery from them and apparently are accessories in changing the course of Matrian society. With the Nexus destroyed and the M-SID network shorted out, it looks like they’re going to have to try their original plan again. Hopefully, all goes well. The Matrian warships are now ferrying Senousian captives back to Senous.”
“Bad news, Part One: Prefect Lashette smashed the Prime Directive to shreds by destroying the Matrian Nexus. Of course, since she’s not part of Starfleet she’s not held to our rules. Still, Starfleet is sure to feel that Noonan could have done more to stop her, even though her actions saved us all.”
“Bad news, Part Two: Silverado’s taken two beatings now in two days. The saucer section looks like a Frisbee after the St. Bernard has finished chewing on it, we’ve lost two phaser arrays, our port nacelle is a mess and it’s going to take us months to limp back to Federation space for repairs. But she’s holding together.”
“Bad news, Part Three: Oh boy, where to begin. If Starfleet gave us a hard time for playing Musical Chairs with our bridge console functions, what are they going to say about this?”
“Ew! Ew! It’s growing again! Get if off me! Get it off!” Jall’s body cried as Wowryk’s mind again reacted to its new home.
“You think that’s growing?” Jall said from T’Parief’s body, “You won’t believe what this guy’s packing!”
“Can we please change the subject?” Stafford snapped, “I’m sure getting new genitelia is very exciting, but I really don’t want to hear about it!” He had been lucky enough to end up in Jeffery’s body, and although he found it really annoying to suddenly be half a foot shorter, nothing else had really changed. Nothing he was willing to share, anyway.
“Scientifically, this is fascinating,” Fifebee said. She was still in her own body, as were Noonan, Sylvia and any crewmen who had not been hooked into the SID.
“It’s happened before,” Yanick said from Stafford’s body, where she had his feet up on the table. She was working to paint the toenails a bright pink.
“Yes, but never like this. Plus, the other crews had an obvious way to correct the situation. We don’t”
“Thanks so much for the encouragement” Stafford/Jeffery groaned, “And Trish, please stop painting my toenails! I want my body back, you know!”
“Oh, but I LIKE being tall for once!” Yanick whined.
“Um, did Ah mention thanks for saving me?” Jeffery piped up from Wowryk’s body, “And ye all did such a good job of it, too.”
“If it weren’t for you, this wouldn’t have happened!” Jall/T’Parief snapped.
“I was being sincere!” Jeffery/Wowryk objected, “Sorry if it sounded sarcastic!”
Stafford blew out a long breath.
“I think we can agree that a return to Federation space is our best bet. We’ll take the M-SIDs we have with us, see if we can use them to get back to the way we should be. If that doesn’t work, there are a few other possibilities we could try.”
“Indeed,” Fifebee piped up, “The Vulcan ritual of Fal-tor-pan could possibly be adapted to fit our needs. Also, there are-“
“Thank you,” Stafford said, “We get the picture. Trish, take us back to Federation space. Warp,” Stafford looked around the table for Jeffery. Realizing that he was, for the moment, Jeffery, he quickly located Wowryk’s body. Jeffery held up three of Wowryk’s slim fingers.
“Warp 3,” Stafford finished
Stafford/Jeffery rang to chime to Noonan’s quarters.
“Come” Noonan called.
Stafford stepped in, looking around. The room was artfully decorated in dark colors, with the occasional deep red or blue thrown in for contrast. Noonan sat on his couch, looking out the window and sipping a glass of what looked to Stafford like wine.
Stafford walked slowly along the wall, picking up a small iron sculpture of a squirrel.
“I wanted to talk to you, off the record,” Stafford said, “I just finished reading your report.”
“And you had some questions?” Noonan said smoothly, still looking out the window.
“Something like that,” Stafford said. He drew back the squirrel and hurtled it at Noonan with all his might. Noonan’s arm snapped out, catching the sculpture effortlessly.
“It seems really strange,” Stafford said, “that somebody with your seemingly inhuman reflexes and reaction time couldn’t stop Lashette from taking the transporter beacon you were using as a defense against the M-SIDs. It seems even stranger that removing it would have any effect, seeing as how you’re immune and all that.”
“It does seem strange, doesn’t it?” Noonand said with a slight smile.
“You pretended. You knew what she would do, and you allowed it.”
“I did. Do you have an objection?”
Stafford thought for a moment.
“No. But you do realize that your actions have changed the course of an entire civilization.”
“From what I understand, Lashette’s actions, not mine, set that civilization back on it’s original course and saved this sector from war.”
“That’s what my report’s going to say, anyway,” Stafford said, “That is, if Sylvia can stop fussing over me long enough for me to finish it!”
“The two of you have resolved your differences?” Noonan asked.
“My next stop.”
Stafford stepped into Holodeck One, finding himself in an exact replica of his childhood home. He could even smell dinner cooking in the kitchen.
“OK, you may as well come out, I know you’re in here!”
“Hello, Chris,” Sylvia said from behind him.
“Um, hi.” Stafford said, “Look, um-“
“Thank you,” Sylvia cut him off.
“Back in the Matrian throne room. You called me an ‘artificial being’, rather than a computer or a malfunction.”
“Yes, and you didn’t even think about it. That’s more of an apology to me than anything you could say now.”
“You have to realize, I can never think of you as my mother, or love you the same way…”
“I know,” Sylvia said, “I don’t really understand who I am anymore. The only reason I acted like your mother was because Jall programmed me to-“
“It WAS him! That little-“
“-but I can work past that now,” Sylvia continued, “It may take some time, but I’m going to develop my own identity.”
“You and Fifebee will get along great,” Stafford said with a chuckle.
“We’re going for coffee late today,” Sylvia said with a grin, “Well, neither of us drinks coffee, but you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. Um, I guess I’ll be going now.” He turned to leave.
“I wanted to thank you. And Jeffery, and the rest of the crew. For fixing me up, giving me a second chance. Well, not really me, but my physical form anyway. A ship is meant to carry her crew on their journey, and you all saved me from spending the rest of my ‘life’ rotting in a junkyard.”
“This mission, this whole ‘Operation Salvage’ thing, wasn’t our idea,” Stafford said, “But you’re welcome. And yeah, I think, despite everything, we’re all proud to be a part of it.”
That’s it! The end of Silverado, Season 1! And yes, there WILL be Season 2! Stay tuned for Silverado Book 1: Intermission, coming soon to a Nexus near you.