Author: Brendan Chris
<Voice of Sylvia>
“Hello everybody, and welcome aboard Silverado! My name is Sylvia, and I’d be delighted to give you kids a quick rundown of what’s been going on,”
“While investigating an attack by a group of aliens baring a striking resemblance to the supposedly unique Lieutenant Commander T’Parief, Chris Stafford and all the rest of my crew followed the trail of a, er, somewhat mad Klingon named K’Eleese, thought to be banished to an unknown parallel universe. Finding the remains of a portal between the universes, Stafford and crew arrive just in time to help reopen the portal,”
“Imagine our surprise at what we found…”
“Well, this complicates things somewhat,” Noonan said softly.
Stafford just stared at the main viewscreen.
Not that he was alone in that. Everybody, Ensign Yanick, Lieutenant Fifebee, Lt. Cmdr. T’Parief, Lieutenant Jall and even the no-name ensign working the port Auxiliary console were dumbstruck by what they saw. There was a buzz as a hologram of a middle-aged blond woman appeared. Evidently Sylvia, the sentient personality that had accidentally been created in the ship’s computer core, found the situation bizarre enough to warrant more personal involvement.
On the other side of the viewscreen, the scene was similar. The bridge on the screen was different and there were a few unfamiliar faces, but there was no mistaking the man standing in front of the command chair. He’d even introduced himself: Captain Christopher Stafford.
The alternate Stafford was the first to find his voice.
“Uh,” he hesitated; straightening his uniform again in the approved Starfleet matter, “Thank you for your assistance…” he trailed off.
Stafford blinked and seared for something say. Normally Noonan was very good at covering his Captain’s occasional mute moments, but Noonan himself found he was having difficulties speaking. Stafford finally spoke up.
“What the HELL?”
“An excellent question,” Commander Jall-2 murmured, loud enough for his Captain to hear, but not loud enough for the audio pickup.
“Captain,” Lieutenant Commander Jane 6-E spoke up from the science console, “The portal has stabilized. Enemy ships will be coming through in one minute!”
On the viewscreen, the other ship’s science officer was relaying similar information to her Stafford.
“Red Alert! Lieutenant Commander Stern,” alternate Stafford, for he was the visitor in this universe, ordered, “shields up, weapons armed. Lieutenant Yanick, move us away from the portal,”
“Aye sir,” Stern-2 nodded. Yanick-2 was already tapping at her console, moving the huge Sovereign-class ship around the smaller Ambassador-class ship they had encountered.
Alternate Stafford considered the other ship. Clearly they were friendly, not like the hostile inhabitants of the Mirror Universe, or the lunatics in the Happyverse. The other ship would be a big help against the oncoming fighters that were about to come boiling through the portal. Still, it wouldn’t equal his Silverado.
“I suggest,” he said to the other Stafford, “that we save explanations and such until we’re all out of danger,”
“Right,” Stafford growled, “And by the way, you’re welcome for the help!”
He cut the channel.
Alternate Stafford took a moment to think about his counterpart’s rudeness before turning back to his own crew and snapping orders.
“Pompous windbag,” Stafford growled, “Red Alert! T’Parief, shields up, weapons armed. Get the pulse cannon charging too. Who the hell does that guy think he is? We let him into our universe, offering him safe haven from whatever’s attacking him, and then he wants to push us around? Ensign Yanick, move us away from the portal. Get some distance between us and that other ship,”
He turned to Sylvia’s hologram.
“Er, Sylvia,” he said, “We could use your help with damage control and-“
“I know what to do, Chris,” Sylvia said, sounding distracted. Her hologram fizzled out of existence. Stafford could hear her voice on the comm system directing backup crew into position.
“We’ve got fighters coming through!” T’Parief snapped, “They are running with weapons hot!”
Sobek 46 shook off a brief wave of vertigo as his fighter cleared the portal between the universes. His eyes narrowed as he found not one Starfleet ship waiting for him, but two.
So that’s why Silverado tried reopening the portal, even though they clearly didn’t have the ability to do it themselves. They’d gambled on there being another ship on the other side willing to help them. A gamble they’d apparently won.
Sobek 46 armed his weapons and targeted the larger of the two ships. They might have won that gamble, but he still had twenty-two fighters. It wouldn’t be an overwhelming victory, but could still do some serious damage.
The two Silverados positioned themselves at a comfortable distance from the rift and from each other. The alternate ship, Silverado-2 for convenience sake, looking sleek and powerful next to the older Ambassador-class ship. Bursting from the portal like wasps from a hive came the first round of fighters.
The fighters themselves were vaguely reptilian in design, with the cockpit where a head would be. A sleek, green fuselage made up the body, while two weapons pods looked like claws reaching forward. The aft end of each fighter was adorned with three compact warp nacelles. The first wave of eight ships broke into two groups, with three heading for Silverado and the remaining five heading for Silverado-2. Even as they approached their targets, another wave of fighters boiled from the portal.
“They’re going for our nacelles!” snapped Commander Stern-2 from the Tactical position on the Silverado-2’s bridge as the ship shook slightly, “Shields are holding,”
“The other ship has three attackers,” Sikcee (Jane 6-E) reported, “Their shields are holding as well, they are returning fire,”
Stafford-2 watched as the Ambassador-class ship fired bright red phaser beams, striking two of her three attackers. To his right, First Officer Jall-2 tapped at his mini-console.
“Somebody’s been upgrading the weapons on that ship, “he notified Stafford, clearly surprised.
“Good,” Stafford shrugged, “If the enemy underestimates them as much as you obviously did, that bodes well,”
Jall-2 acknowledged the jab with a crooked grin and a nod.
“Continue evasive maneuvers,” he ordered Lieutenant Yanick-2, “Lieutenant Noonan, any response to our hails?”
“No, sir,” replied Lieutenant Kelsey Noonan from the Ops panel, “No response,”
“Why don’t they fire!?” Stafford snapped, trying to keep track of the ships attacking his ship even as he checked the readings on the other Silverado, “They’re just sitting there letting themselves be shot at!”
Silverado shuddered slightly as T’Parief nailed one of the fighters, blowing it to smithereens.
“They are,” Noonan said softly, “probably analyzing the enemy’s attack patterns and confirming that their hails have not been answered,”
“What a waste of time!” Stafford shook his head, “They’re shooting at us, that’s good enough for me!”
“Starfleet DOES usually prefer that-“
“More ships on the way!” Jall piped in as T’Parief blew up another fighter, “looks like most of them are coming right at us!”
“T’Parief,” Stafford turned to his hulking, somewhat cranky Security Chief, “How long has it been since I let you play with the pulse phaser cannon?”
“Far too long,” T’Parief growled, a predatory smile creasing his features.
“Have fun,” Stafford smirked, pointing at the new cluster of fighters approaching from the portal.
“What are they doing anyway?” Stafford-2 frowned, watching on his mini-console as the smaller Starfleet vessel blasted one of the alien fighters into dust.
“Fighting back,” Commander Jall-2 shrugged.
“Well, yeah,” Stafford-2 replied, “It just seems weird that a Federation ship is firing all its weapons so soon in the battle,”
“Starfleet policy is to fire a few light shots to discourage your enemies,” Stern-2 complained from Tactical, “Then only blow them away after they do serious damage to your ship,”
“Clearly these guys don’t agree,”
“More fighters on the way,” Kelsey Noonan piped in, “looks like most of them are focusing on Silverado.
Yanick, Stafford, Stern and Jall frowned.
“The OTHER Silverado,” Kelsey clarified.
“Time to show them who’s the bigger threat,” Stafford-2 vowed, “Fire all weapons!”
“Yes sir!” Stern replied with a dark grin.
An external viewer would have sworn the two ships had planned it.
As the flight of reptilian fighters cut through space, racing towards the Federation ships, they broke into two groups. The larger group changed course to intercept the smaller ship, the one with weapons blazing in all directions. The smaller group headed towards the larger and so far less aggressive vessel.
As one, the two starships cut loose with their full strength.
Aboard Silverado, T’Parief fired the ships heavy phaser cannon. The cannon, powered by special energy capacitor cells installed by Jeffery, spat half a dozen heavy bolts of coherent energy, each bolt aimed at one of the attacking ships.
Aboard Silverado-2, Stern finally let loose the full might of the Sovereign-class ship. Even two years of modifications and upgrades couldn’t make an old Ambassador-class ship equal the most powerful ship in Starfleet’s arsenal. Thick red phaser beams speared out, more often then not hitting their targets dead center and blasting vital systems to cinders.
Yanick fired port thrusters, while Yanick-2 fired starboard thrusters. The result was that each ship dodged nimbly out of the path of the weak and sporadic return fire.
The attacking ships, a full three quarters of their force destroyed, turned towards the portal and retreated.
Stafford-2 nodded with satisfaction as the last of the alien ships vanished.
“Damage report?” he asked.
“Our shields took heavy damage,” Kelsey Noonan reported, “Hull breach on Decks 7, 12 and 13. The optical data network is down on Deck 6 and we have a few overloaded plasma relays on Deck 16 as well,”
“Dispatch repair teams,” Jall-2 ordered. He turned to Stafford, “I’d like to pull Sikcee into a science lab and see if we can get an idea of what our counterpart over there is capable of,”
Stafford-2 smiled to himself. Leave it to Jall to be right on the ball.
“I don’t think we really have anything to worry about from them,” Stafford said, “But I agree that we should know what we’re dealing with,”
“Hah!” Stafford smirked, “Take that!”
“The alien ships have retreated,” T’Parief added, somewhat after the fact.
“Damage report?” Commander Noonan inquired.
Jall made a show of stretching his arms, then cracking his knuckles. Shrugging his shoulders, he suddenly reached back to scratch his head.
Watching this display of preening, Stafford felt the smirk slide right off his face. He cringed as Jall flexed his back, loosing a series of pops as his spine cracked.
“For the love of God!” Stafford snapped, “Cut that out!”
“Cut what out?” Jall asked. He rotated one wrist with a soft crack. Stafford’s shoulder’s hunched as his breath shot out, “You mean this?” Jall asked.
“Captain,” T’Parief called from Tacticale, “we’re-“
“Why the hell would you do that?” Stafford demanded, “Doesn’t it hurt? It can’t feel good!”
“Actually-“ he started.
“We’re being hailed by the other ship!” T’Parief roared, drowning out Stafford and Jall.
Stafford blinked. Fifebee turned from her science station to mutter softly to T’Parief.
“You seem upset,” she said, “Do you perhaps need a hug?”
T’Parief stared coldly at her.
Fifebee turned away.
“Mental note,” she muttered, “Initiate repression of personality subroutine 2658: Webber, Clair,”
Stafford-2 finally appeared on the screen.
“I hope you’re in decent shape after that scuffle?” he asked.
“Of course we are,” Stafford replied, “Why wouldn’t we be?”
“Er, no reason,” Stafford-2 said, clearly trying to repress a grin, “I’m glad we could be of assistance,”
“Hey!” Stafford snapped, “What do you mean? YOU sent out a distress call! WE helped YOU!”
“Of course you did,” Stafford-2 chuckled.
“Why you smug, arrogant-“
“Regardless of that battle,” Noonan cut in, “I think you’ll agree that now would be a good time to discuss how exactly we’re going to deal with K’Eleese,”
“Quite right,” Stafford-2 frowned, “And you are?”
“First Officer Matthew Noonan,” Noonan replied, noting that the Silverado-2’s Ops officer jerked her head in surprise at that.
Stafford-2’s eyes darted briefly to his officer, then back to Stafford’s.
“I invite you and your senior officers to visit Silverado,” he said finally, “I trust you’ll find our facilities most impressive,”
“It’s not the size that counts, buddy!” Stafford snapped.
“Yeah!” Jall cut in, “It’s how you use it.
“That’s just something that people with little ships say!” Stafford-2 shot back.
“Perhaps we can split things up a bit,” Jall-2 cut in.
Stafford did a double take. It looked like the other Jall was sitting in the First Officer’s chair. What the hell?
“Shouldn’t we maybe try actually doing something?” Stafford said, “Like maybe CHASING AFTER K’ELEESE??? I assume that’s what this is about, seeing as how she’s probably somewhere in your universe plotting her next attack against us!”
Stafford-2 didn’t budge.
“We’re not even sure where she went,” he said firmly, “The portal is stable for the time being, and we have two ships full of people who are completely unfamiliar with each other!”
“We’re the same people!” Stafford objected.
“I agree,” Noonan turned to Stafford, “With him. You, T’Parief, Yanick and Fifebee could visit the other Silverado. In turn, we could host the counterparts for Dr. Wowryk, Mr. Jeffery, Mr. Jall and myself. I think it’s important that we understand each other before we undertake any action against K’Eleese,”
“Fine, whatever. I’m game,” Stafford grumbled, “What do you think?” he asked Stafford-2.
“Sounds good,” Stafford-2 agreed, “In half an hour then,”
“One hour!” Stafford shot back.
“40 minutes,” Stafford-2 replied.
Stafford-2 shook his head as the holographic screen shut down, revealing the blank front wall of the bridge.
“Well,” he sighed, “Dealing with these people could be interesting. I sure don’t recall ever being that difficult!”
“Would your wife say the same?” Jall-2 asked with a twinkle in his eye.
“Good point,” he stood, “Commander Jall, you’ll take Dr. Wowryk, Lieutenant Noonan and Commander Jeffery to the other ship. My counterpart and I will determine a course of action. I want you to get a reading on this other ship. I want to know what kind of people these are, and whether they’re more likely to help us, or hold us back,”
“Yes sir,” Jall-2 nodded.
Stafford clenched his fist as the viewscreen at the front of the bridge switched back to show an image of the universal portal.
“Have I ever been that much of an insufferable snot?” he asked, hand open, “And no, Jall, I don’t want to know what YOU think!”
“He did seem pretty sure of himself,” Yanick offered from the help, “You could probably learn something from him,”
“Right,” Stafford bit off another rude remark, “OK. Fifebee, Yanick, T’Parief. You’re with me. We’re going to see what they know about these T’Parief look-alikes and K’Eleese. Oh, and by the way, get repair teams dispatched. Those reptoids got some pretty good shots in before they retreated,”
Stafford turned to Noonan.
“You’re easily the most perceptive officer I got. I’m going to want to know what you think about our ‘friends’ over there,” Stafford lowered his voice, “Use whatever secret tricks you’ve got. I don’t want any surprises,”
“Understood,” Noonan nodded.
“So I understand we’re having guests,” Sylvia commented as Jeffery finished up his repair work on the starboard power transfer conduit. The conduit had taken damage during the fight and needed a few minor repairs before the starboard warp nacelle could be safely used again.
“Aye,” Jeffery confirmed, “that’s right Sylvia. Ah get to meet meself from another universe. Cool, huh?”
“I suppose,” Sylvia shrugged, “I wouldn’t know, really.”
“What do ye mean?” Jeffery asked, “Ye’ve got a Sovereign-class sister parked off yer port beam!”
“I do,” Sylvia agreed, “But that doesn’t mean I have a counterpart onboard,”
“Ah would think we’d all have our twins,” Jeffery shrugged, “Ah know that mine, Noonan’s, Wowryk’s and Jall’s will be coming over here,”
“Except that Noonan’s counterpart is a scared young woman,” Sylvia interjected.
“Really?” Jeffery shrugged, “Weird,”
“In any event, I’ve contacted the computer aboard the other vessel. I have no counterpart on board,” Silvia said sadly, “The only response I got to my hello message was ‘Please hold, a Starfleet Representative will be with you shortly’,”
“Ah, um,” Jeffery really didn’t know what to say. Obviously the string of minor sabotage, malfunctions and finally alien energy fields that had brought Sylvia to life in this universe hadn’t taken place in the other one, “Ah’ve always said you were one of a kind?” The statement, meant to be reassuring, came out as more of a question.
“Right,” Sylvia sighed, “Thanks. So, er, have you given any thought to my offer?”
“Oh!” In the rush to get back to the ship from the alien freighter they’d found before the portal opened and the ensuing battle, Jeffery had completely forgotten that Sylvia, having been asked by Admiral Tunney to leave Silverado for an ‘examination’ before helping to renovate and refit other Operation Salvage ships, had asked him to come along.
“It’s a nice opportunity,” Jeffery mused.
“It’s a career-making opportunity,” Sylvia corrected, “With the number of ships we’d be working on,”
“Ye sound like you’ve made your decision,” Jeffery said.
“Partly,” Sylvia admitted, “It is an interesting proposition. However, it is not one I’m willing to pursue alone,”
“Aside from the wish to have an organic being to speak for and protect me, I’d really like to have a familiar face around,” Jeffery could almost hear the smile in Sylvia’s voice.
Jeffery thought for a moment. Could he leave Silverado? He’d put his sweat, blood and possibly drool into this ship. From the rotting shipwreck she’d been to the functional vessel she’d become, he’d been with Silverado before Sylvia had even been created. What about Stafford? His best bud? There’s no way he’d leave his command to go with Jeffery, nor would Jeffery want him to. The two of them had been together for years, always watching out for each other. And what about Noel? She might be convinced to go…but without the counseling they were getting from Yvonnokoff, Jeffery wasn’t sure just how long their relationship would last. As much as he loved her, he’d realized some time ago that he had to stand up for himself and protect his rights, something that often clashed against Wowryk’s dominating personality. Why, if not for little Luke being there to occupy so much of her attention, who knows what kind of clashes they might have had?
“Sylvia,” he said, “Ah can’t decide something like that so quickly. Ah don’t have anywhere near your processing capacity!”
“Of course, Simon,” Sylvia said, “I suspect this business with K’Eleese and the other Silverado will keep us busy for several days at least,”
“Yer not kidding,” Jeffery agreed.
Stafford-2 stepped briskly into Transporter Room 1 as Ensign Pysternzkys programmed in the co-ordinates, Jall-2 entering right behind him.
“I have Stern and Sikcee’s report on the other ship,” he said, brandishing a padd.
“Let’s hear it,” Stafford-2 said, nodding to Pysternzyks as the Andorian officer politely bared his teeth.
“Ambassador-class, heavily refitted,” Jall-2 said, “From what we can tell, the spaceframe is at least fifty years old-“
“Fifty years!” Stafford-2 was taken aback.
“Yup,” Jall-2 agreed, “She’s an old girl. We took a closer look at some of the refit components. Looks like the warp drive, nav deflector and weapons arrays were replaced between eighteen and twenty-four months ago, along with a significant fraction of the outer hull and structural members,”
“Geez,” Stafford-2 shook his head, “I don’t envy the crew that had to go through that! I wonder why Starfleet didn’t just build a new ship? It’s not like the shipyards have been all that busy lately,”
“Ours haven’t,” Jall-2 pointed out, “Who knows what’s happened in this universe. Maybe this is the best they can do,”
The doors swished open as Dr. Wowryk-2 and Commander Jeffery-2 entered.
“Good day,” Wowryk-2 said, smiling warmly as she nodded at Stafford and Jall in turn, “How are you today?”
“Fine thanks, Doc,” Stafford-2 smiled back. Wowryk-2 could always brighten the day with her presence. She was a lot like her friend Yanick that way, though with a quiet dignity that Stafford envied.
“Heya Chris,” Jeffery-2 nodded, “Did ye get a look at that antique over there?”
“Yeah,” Stafford-2 nodded, “San was just giving me the run-down,”
“Ah’d like to meet the man who’s kept her together all this time!” Jeffery said, a gleam in his eye.
“Look in the mirror, dear,” Wowryk laughed.
“Computer,” Stafford called, “Repair status?”
“Repairs complete,” stated the cold, emotionless voice of the ships computer, “All systems answer with an operational status of 90% or better,”
“Good,” Stafford smiled, “All set for company!”
The first thing Jeffery-2 noticed when he materialized on the other Silverado was the sign on the wall that said ‘Use at Own Risk’.
The second thing he noticed was himself, standing right next to a complete twin of Jall. Wowryk’s counterpart was there as well, along with a pale, dark-haired man.
The dark-haired man quickly made the introductions, as unnecessary as most of them were. But Jeffery-2 felt his eyebrows rise when he introduced himself as First Officer Matthew Noonan.
“Hiya, handsome,” Jall said, giving his counterpart a smooth smile.
“Hello,” Jall-2 inclined his head politely, but said nothing else.
“And this,” Jeffery-2 said, “Is Lieutenant Kelsey Noonan,”
“I guess there are some differences between our universes,” Noonan said. There was a polite smile on his face, but something in his voice sounded sad. Very sad.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” Jeffery-2 started at the strange voice that seemed to come from all directions.
“Er, right,” Noonan’s smile was definitely strained now, “Gentlebeings, I’d like you to meet the Federation Starship Silverado. Better known as Sylvia,”
Sylvia’s hologram materialized in the center of the room.
“Nice to meet you all,” she said, her somewhat cool voice a counterpoint to her dramatic entrance.
“That’s an interesting computer interface,” Jall-2 said, walking around Sylvia, who glared at him, “Our Starfleet looked at replacing voice commands with interactive holograms, but decided it was too much of a distraction-“
“DISTRACTION?” Sylvia huffed.
“She’s not an interface,” Jeffery said, looking a little smugly at Jeffery-2, “She’s a sentient personality. One of a kind, actually,”
“Seems like a security risk to me,” Jall-2 frowned.
“She’s worth it!” Jeffery snapped.
“I think I’ll be going now,” Sylvia said coldly. Her hologram vanished.
Noonan and Jeffery exchanged glances, then Noonan forced a smile at his counterpart and gestured to the door.
The first thing Stafford-2 noticed as his counterpart materialized on the transporter pad was the large reptile standing behind him.
“Security alert!” he snapped, “We’ve got a Sobek on board! Security to Transporter Room 1!”
As he snapped his commands, Commander Stern-2 pulled his phaser from the holster and fired at the invader.
T’Parief dodged the beam, using both arms to push Stafford, Yanick and Fifebee to the ground. Fifebee gave her holo-relay a good shove on the way down, sending the device floating out of the line of fire.
“Hold your fire!” Stafford shouted from the floor. T’Parief, torn between firing at his attackers and obeying his captain, hesitated for a crucial second. He felt a stab of betrayal as Stern-2 fired on him, sending him reeling to the deck.
“NOBODY MOVE!” snapped Commander Stern-2 as T’Parief crashed to the floor.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Yanick snapped, ignoring Stern-2’s order and moving closer to T’Parief.
“Good f**king question!” Stafford snapped, holding his hands up as he climbed back to his feet.
“We just saved your lives!” Stafford-2 snapped back, “I’d think some thanks would be in order,”
“Um, Captain-“ Stern-2 started, but Stafford cut him off.
“Saved our lives?” Stafford dropped his arms, an unhealthy flush coming over his normally pleasant complexion, “Why the hell would we need saving?”
“Captain-“ Stern-2 tried again.
“What is it, Commander?” Stafford-2 asked, leaving his counterpart’s question unanswered.
“The Sobek is wearing a Starfleet uniform,” Stern-2 said.
“The what?” Stafford demanded, “That’s T’Parief, my Chief of Security. Or he was, until you stunned the hell out of him!”
“Sobek,” Fifebee supplied thoughtfully, “Egyptian Crocodile god,”
“Often seen as a bodyguard or protector of other gods,” Sikcee countered.
“Such as Ra and Set,” Fifebee agreed.
“Right,” Stafford was pacing the transporter room as Yanick helped two medtechs lift T’Parief onto a stretcher, “And what does this have to do with T’Parief?”
“The aliens that attacked us go by the name of Sobek,” Stern-2 explained, “And he looks just like them,”
“Maybe,” Stafford-2 said wearily, “now would be a good time for us to exchange information on our present circumstances?”
Wowryk raised an eyebrow as her counterpart, Wowryk-2, picked up Luke and eyed his baby-like features carefully.
/<You’re not so bad yourself, toots,/> Luke, AKA Lord Stalart thought-spoke to himself. Noonan, leading the rest of the visitors out of Sickbay experienced a slight twinge of pain, but nobody else was aware of the telepathic alien’s ability to communicate, /<With the two of you and the one of me, I see some very interesting possibilities!/>
“I suppose,” Wowryk agreed carefully, “I sure didn’t think so when we found him,”
“He’s a sweet little baby!” Wowryk-2 gushed.
“He’s going to grow up into a filthy male, filled with all the sinful urges that comes with being a man!” Wowryk said. Her therapy sessions with Yvonnokoff were helping her a great deal; she finished the whole sentence in a completely calm voice rather than an outranged rant.
“He is,” Wowryk-2 looked a little sad, “But as my father always said: ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin,’”
“Daddy never said that!” she said.
“Really?” Wowryk-2 was intrigued, “What did he say?”
“‘Burn the sinners in the lake of fire!’ was his favorite saying,” Wowryk replied.
“Oh,” Wowryk-2 sighed, “One of those,” she put Luke down on the floor and turned back to her counterpart, “What about ‘love thy neighbor’?” she asked.
“I would think,” Wowryk said, frowning, “that the saying refers to proper, Catholic neighbors,”
“Love the sinner, hate the sin,” Wowryk-2 said again, her facing taking on a somewhat beatific expression, “God loves us all,”
“He does,” Wowryk agreed, leading her counterpart into her office and gesturing for her to take a seat. Instead, she started looking around. Her attention came to a small cabinet discretely positioned beside the door, out of view of the casual visitor.
“What’s this?” Wowryk-2 asked.
“Oh,” Wowryk had pulled two glasses of clear water out of the replicator, “Daddy gave that to me when I left, just in case,”
The cabinet in question contained a bottle of holy water, a Bible, a crucifix and a rosary. In large letters on the back surface was printed ‘In Case of Blasphemy, Break Glass’.
“Where’s the glass?” Wowryk-2 asked, reaching through the open, glassless face to examine the rosary.
“I got tired of cleaning the mess and replacing the glass four or five times a day,” she replied.
The women shared a laugh; neither of them noticing Luke as he popped open the hatch leading into the Jefferies tube system.
“It all started,” Stafford-2 explained, “on the planet Nisus,”
Stafford, Fifebee, Yanick, their counterparts, Stern and T-Parief were gathered in the spacious and well-appointed conference room of the Sovereign-class Silverado. Cheered somewhat that the other crew feared him enough to shoot him, T’Parief glowered from his seat. Something about T’Parief nagged at the back of Stafford’s mind, but refused to make an appearance.
Fifebee and Sikcee had compared notes over a computer link, and were helping Stafford and Stafford-2 to analyze the situation.
“Two individuals, a Gorn and a Klingon, materialized during a routing transporter test several months ago,” Sikcee explained, “They quickly departed the planet and disappeared. Later analysis of the transporter records indicated that they had originated in this universe,”
“T’Parief’s vacation,” Stafford cut in knowingly. He nodded at T’Parief, who quickly summarized the events that had occurred on Nisus months before.
“He did report that Slezar and K”Eleese had escaped into another reality,” Fifebee confirmed.
“And you didn’t see fit to tell us?” Commander Stern-2 demanded.
“Starfleet decided that any contact with another universe would be too dangerous,” Stafford said firmly.
“We call it being careful,” Yanick added helpfully.
“I call it irresponsible!” Stafford-2 growled. Yanick bit her lip, her features flushing.
“Be nice to her,” T’Parief warned.
“Oh!” Yanick-2 smiled, “Are you two together? That’s so sweet!”
It stuck Stafford like a phaser blast.
There was only one T’Parief.
On board the other Silverado, both Jefferys, Jalls, Commander Noonan and Lieutenant Noonan were gathered in the conference room, comparing notes. The two Jefferys were huddled around a computer panel, while the others exchanged notes. Noonan, as per his captain’s orders, was paying rapt attention to everything around him.
“So you’re an Operations guy, huh?” Commander Jall-2 said to his counterpart, just a hint of condescension in his tone.
“I WAS First Officer of the Sutherland for over a year!” Jall shot back.
“Oh, demoted!” Jall-2 laughed, “How did that happen? Captain Delores and I always got along great,”
“It had nothing to do with Captain Delores!” Jall said, “And I don’t want to talk about it!”
“Of course not,” Jall-2 smirked, “Lieutenant!”
“Oh, you son of a b-“
“Tell me about yourself, Lieutenant Noonan,” Noonan said firmly, ending any further argument, “I find it interesting that we should be so different, while Jall, Jeffery and Wowryk appear to have near-identical counterparts,”
“I don’t have any brothers or uncles named Matthew,” Kelsey Noonan frowned, “Although, my great-great…well, I’m not sure how many great’s to throw in. Anyway, my great-whatever-grandfather was named Matthew. He was in Starfleet, he served aboard the Columbia, one of the first NX-class ships. Part of the security team I think. Cited for bravery, awarded the Federation Cross, yada yada. Dad has a picture of him in his den. He really looks just like you!”
“Really,” Noonan swallowed, “What happened to him?”
“Killed in the line of duty,” Kelsey said, “On Andor, back when we were still learning about Andorian society,”
“How come you know so much about ancient family?” Jall asked, “I’m not even sure what my great-grandfather’s name was!”
“Rikath Jall, was our father’s father’s father,” Jall-2 stated, “And on the human side-“
“Like, shut up already!” Jall snapped.
Jall-2 pursed his lips, as though throwing a mocking kiss in Jall’s direction.
“It’s sort of a family legend,” Kelsey admitted, “The Andorians apologized, but Pappy Matt was sort of a hero to the family back then. Hence the family legend.”
“I see,” Noonan replied. Kelsey could have sworn that there was something unspeakable sad in his eyes.
“So where is K’Eleese getting her material from?” Stafford asked.
Stafford-2 had explained in detail what had happened in the alternate universe after K’Eleese and Slezar had arrived. The two of them had found their way off of Nisus, then vanished. Months later, colonies near the Gorn border had been attacked in a series of raids. The Gorn Hegemony had firmly denied any involvement, though the Federation somewhat doubted their sincerity based on the design of the fighter craft.
Up until the first capture. Performed by none other than the Silverado-2.
“We knew at once they were genetically engineered,” Stafford-2 had said, “By Federation technology no less. What we couldn’t figure out was how. Something like this would take years of research. Starfleet Intelligence poured over reports and records of every genetics library, from Earth, to Nisus, to Kominor Prime. Not a clue,”
“K’Eleese is, er, resourceful,” Stafford said quickly.
“Captain,” T’Parief looked straight at Stafford, “I will explain-“
“Commander,” Stafford said firmly, “you don’t have to-“
“DO NOT CODDLE ME!” T’Parief snarled, baring his fangs. Stafford cringed back so hard his chair skittered back from the table.
“It dishonors us both!” T’Parief finished as he turned to the rest of the group, who were watching in silence.
“I believe,” he said, “That my father took advantage of the Federation’s leniency in allowing genetic engineering for procreation. I believe he used my mother to justify his experiments in merging Klingon, Andorian and Gorn DNA. I was an early attempt to create a race of soldiers. A prototype. He has now had the opportunity to perfect his design and has started mass-producing copies of me in this universe,”
The hulking officer leaned back in his seat and was silent.
Stafford swallowed, suddenly understanding what his officer was feeling. Obviously T’Parief had connected the dots better than he had. He wondered briefly if T’Parief’s beliefs matched the theories that Fifebee had preferred not to voice.
After a moment, Stafford-2 went on to explain what K’Eleese was doing, how her forces had grown in strength and numbers, raiding colonies and hijacking freighters. But he hadn’t explained how she had gotten her hands on ships and supplies in the first place.
“We’re still investigating that,” he said, “Admiral Jaroch is pretty sure that either the Gorn or the Klingons are secretly supplying her,”
“To what purpose,” T’Parief grumbled, “What is her motivation?”
Sikcee took over.
“There are rumors,” she said, “that K’Eleese is attempting to form a kind of coalition of worlds. Perhaps she wishes to be a queen, or merely wants plenty of peons to do her bidding. Of course, if we knew which planets were negotiating with her, we would be much closer to learning who her supporters are,”
“Perhaps she’s trying to acquire great wealth?” Fifebee suggested.
“Unlikely,” Sikcee said coldly, “What good is wealth when replicator technology is so commonplace?”
Stafford could almost feel the temperature drop as Fifebee regarded her counterpart.
“She is insane,” Fifebee said slowly, as though talking to a child, “You cannot predict her motives based on rational behavior!”
“The Mark-V Starfleet hologram is HARDLY one to lecture on rational behavior,” Sikcee said gently, “It was one of the corrections made to the Mark-VI model-“
“I see they forgot to remove the BITCH protocols!” Fifebee fumed.
“Er, so what do we do next?” Stafford asked.
“Martinis?” Yanick suggested hopefully.
“I meant in terms of the mission,” Stafford chuckled.
“D’uh!” Yanick-2 muttered softly.
“We were tracking down K’Eleese’s headquarters when we were ambushed by her fighters,” Stern-2 said, “We feel we’re very close, especially once we detected the remains of her universal portal,”
“About that,” Stafford-2 interjected, “Why did she go to all the trouble of opening a portal back to your universe?”
Stafford started to speak, but T’Parief beat him to it.
“The only actions undertaken by her pilots was to attack us,” he said, “I suspect that is the reason,”
“You’ve dealt with her before?”
“Oh yeah,” Stafford said.
“Could you explain?” Stafford-2 asked.
“Um,” Stafford considered. They’d thwarted K’Eleese’s plans to steal a planet-crushing device, then failed to stop her escape from Tantalus V. Finally, T’Parief, Jall and Yanick had failed to stop her plans on Nisus, although Porter from Waystation had managed to trick her into going to Stafford-2’s universe rather than the war-torn and loopy ‘Happyverse’.
“Actually,” he finally said, “I’d really rather not. Suffice to say she really doesn’t like us,”
There was silence for several moments.
“Well then,” Stafford-2 finally said, “We have some time until the portal closes. I suggest you help us located K’Eleese’s hideout and nip her plans in the bud before they really get going,”
“Why should we help you?” Stafford asked, “This sounds like a problem for your universe and your Starfleet,”
“Except that it’s a problem from YOUR universe,” Stern-2 said pointedly, “And you’re responsible,”
“One might even say it’s your duty to help us,” Stafford-2 added.
Stafford thought for a moment.
“How long will the portal be open?”
“Seventy-four hours,” Fifebee said promptly, “But-“
“We can extend that time considerably with a low-level tachyon pulse,” Sikcee cut her off.
“I was speaking,” Fifebee said coldly.
“There was a seventy-nine percent chance that my plan would be better than yours,” Sikcee said disdainfully.
Klingon ridges promptly began sprouting from Fifebee’s forehead.
“Could a runabout do that?” Stafford-2 asked quickly, trying to hold back the coming explosion.
“Yes,” Fifebee and Sikcee said together.
“I guess we don’t really have any reason not to help you,” Stafford said.
“So good to know you’ll help US clean up YOUR mess,” Stafford-2 smiled.
“What a bunch of pricks!” Jall fumed, pacing back and forth in the Silverado’s conference room, his fists clenched.
“Snobs even,” Fifebee agreed.
“Arrogant,” Sylvia chipped in.
“And with good cause,” Stafford mused, thumbing through a data padd Stafford-2 had given him. They’d exchanged some basic info on the doings and happenings in their respective universes, “They have a pretty impressive list of accomplishments. Fourteen first contacts, they uncovered a plot to assassinate the Vulcan ambassador and they were part of a task force that pushed back their latest Borg threat. They and a ship called the Explorer managed to trick the cube into attacking a deserted planet rather than a colony of two billion,”
“That doesn’t give them the right to be mean,” Yanick objected.
“Kelsey was quite polite,” Noonan murmured, then fell back into the depressed silence he’d fallen into since her departure.
“So they’re hot stuff,” Jeffery shrugged, “What’s the problem?”
“The problem?” Stafford sighed, “Is that they’re looking down their noses at us!”
“But I thought they WERE us,” Wowryk asked, “I mean, the other me seemed like me. She was so good with Luke too! He snuck out on us, and she and Sylvia wound up having to coax him out of a Jefferies tube. Nice woman, although she had some very interesting ideas that quite frankly hadn’t occurred to me,”
“It’s a different universe,” Noonan mused, almost to himself, “The same people, the same places. Just different choices,” he let out a long sigh, “They’re the people we might have been,”
“Right,” Stafford said dryly, “If Starfleet handed me a Sovereign-class starship and a version of Jall gifted with motivation I could turn back the Borg too?” he snorted, “I don’t think so!”
“It’s not just the choices we made,” Fifebee pointed out, “But the decisions made by Starfleet, other ships, other crews, even our ancestors! Imagine what we might have accomplished if we hadn’t spent a year and a half focused on salvaging this ship and being ignored by Starfleet,”
Sylvia’s viewscreen persona glared at Fifebee and started to speak.
“Not that it hasn’t been worth it!” Fifebee quickly amended.
“Other factors too,” Jall chipped in, “I mean, we all know about the Mirror Universe the Enterprise found…where everybody is evil? I don’t think everybody just CHOSE to be evil,”
“So we have an evil universe, an insanely happy universe, and this other one?” Stafford asked, “Wonderful! How about a universe where we’re all women?”
Jall shuddered. Wowryk merely looked thoughtful.
“There are an infinite number of realities,” Fifebee said, “Each with its own characteristics. We seem to have found one where many of the people considered ‘misfits’ in our own society lead extremely successful lives,”
“Success is measured only by happiness,” Noonan droned.
“We’re happy!” Yanick declared firmly. She paused and looked around, “Right?”
T’Parief gave a grumble of displeasure.
“In any event,” Stafford stood, “We’re going to get K’Eleese and get away from these strange people!”
“Right,” Jall nodded.
“Commander Noonan,” Stafford turned to his first officer, “The other Stafford is leaving your counterpart, Kelsey? Right, well, he’s leaving her in a runabout to keep the portal open. I want you there too. Your priority is to keep that portal open at all costs,”
“Understood,” Noonan replied. If he was cheered by the prospect of spending more time with his counterpart, it didn’t show.
“So I should get ready to drive us though the glowing hole thingy?” Yanick asked.
“Yeah. There’s just one small problem,” Stafford sighed.
“Aye?” Jeffery leaned forward.
“Somebody,” Stafford rolled his eyes towards Yanick, “Invited them for dinner,”
Captain’s Log, Supplimental:
“We’ve followed Silverado-2 through the portal to their universe. So far, it looks pretty much the same as ours. Commander Noonan and Lieutenant Noonan have stayed behind in the runabout Asessippi to monitor the portal and ensure we have a way home when we’re finished here,”
“We’ve set course to a small planetoid near the Klingon border, where our counterparts believe K’Eleese has a manufacturing facility. They don’t know what she’s making, or if she’ll even be there, but they were on their way to check it out when they were attacked, so it’s probably important,”
“I want everything to be perfect,” Stafford said firmly.
“Oh, really?” Patsy Horton asked, adjusting her large platter-hat. The manager of ‘Le Plateau Argenté’, Horton was the Guinanco manager on Silverado and thus responsible for all social gatherings held in the ship’s converted mess hall.
“I had actually simply planned to serve them tropical fish on a stick,” Horton said in her clipped British , “Or perhaps arrange a mass food-fight?”
“I thought Guinanco employees were to give full respect to customers at all times?” Stafford said tiredly.
“Guianan, in her infinite wisdom, has relaxed some of those guidelines,” Patsy said, “It has been found that some starship captains do not respond well to proper manners,”
“Look, you’re the restaurant manager, I’m sure you can figure something out,” Stafford said.
“Of course, sweety,” Patsy said, “I promise you, it will be fabulous! My counterpart from Silverado-2 will be arriving any moment to help with the preparations,”
“I’m out of here then,” Stafford said, moving towards the door, “One of you is enough!”
“Hello, Captain,” Stafford turned to see Steven standing in the door.
“Heya, Steve- HOLY SHIT!” Stafford shouted and jumped back.
Steven was clad head to toe in the flowing robes of a Guinanco employee, including a hat so wide he had to tilt his head to fit through the door.
“Tell me you’re from the other ship,” Stafford wheezed.
“He is,” Patsy smiled, “I say, that other vessel sounds like it really is quite fantastic! Did you know they have three different Guinanco establishments? Really!”
“Carry on,” Stafford forced out as he squeezed past Steven-2 and out of Horton’s small office.
He walked briskly out of the restaurant, known to the crew simply as ‘Platterhead’s’ (nobody wanted to learn the French necessary to say Le Plateau Argenté). He passed the Steven from his universe, the Guinanco-hating lounge manager, on his way out.
“Don’t go in there,” Stafford called over his shoulder, “Just trust me, it’s better that way,”
Looking confused as Stafford disappeared down the corridor, Steven eyed the door for several moments before turning and walking quickly back to Unbalanced Equations.
“Shouldn’t we be getting ready for our mission?” Jall-2 asked as he adjusted his dress uniform for the umpteenth time, “Going over mission objectives, arranging security teams, preparing contingency plans?”
“C’mon, Jall,” Yanick-2 said playfully, “All work and no play make Jally go crazy!”
“Don’t call me Jally,” Jall-2 said darkly, then cracked a smile, “Trishykins,”
“You two are making me sick,” Stafford-2 shook his head, “Yanick, why don’t you go get a real boyfriend so you can stop hanging around with this freak?”
“Something about the unattainable, I guess,” Yanick-2 gave a theatrical sigh, “He’s just so manly!”
“Maybe you’ll have better luck with his twin brother over there,” Stern-2 said dryly.
“I think Jall has a better chance of getting lucky with him,” Stafford-2 mused. He grimaced, “Wow, I just totally lost my appetite,”
“Me too,” Wowryk-2 agreed.
“Me three,” echoed Stern-2.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jall-2 said, an evil gleam in his eye.
“Gentlemen,” Jeffery-2 said, “if I may draw your attention to the lovely Miss Noel Wowryk…”
Jeffery gestured broadly as Wowryk, all smiles, turned this way and that, displaying her feminine curves, not entirely hidden by the white dress uniform.
“Thanks, bud,” Stafford-2 said.
“Er,yeah, thanks,” Stern-2 agreed.
“Ok, enough ogling my girlfriend,” Jeffery-2 said, “Let’s get going,”
Stafford guided the group from Silverado-2 from the transporter room to the mess hall. His counterpart had made a few condescending comments over the fact that Stafford’s crew wasn’t wearing dress uniforms, but Stafford had shrugged them off, claiming that he didn’t dress up to eat with himself.
Entering the restaurant, Stafford had to fight to repress a gleam of pride in Patsy Horton. Running down the center of the room was a single, long table. Its translucent surface pulsed with soft blue and red colours, some hidden technology giving the table the appearance of a faintly glowing warp core. Flawless china and crystal had been set out, along with several tasteful centerpieces. At each place setting was a cloth napkin carefully folded into the shape of a swan. The remaining tables had been pushed to the edges of the room and covered with plants from the arboretum.
The first snag accrued shortly thereafter.
“Do you mind if we trade places?” the lovely blond woman Stafford-2 had introduced as Elaine asked Fifebee. Fifebee had been seated next to Stafford-2.
“I see no reason not to,” Fifebee replied amicably.
“Thanks,” Elain smiled, “I’d really rather sit close to my husband,”
There was a tinkle of broken glass as Stafford’s wine glass fell to the floor.
“Husband?” he squeaked.
“Married two years,” Stafford-2 said proudly, “Oh,” he looked sheepish, “Sorry. I was trying not to rub it in…”
“Sorry, handsome,” Elaine said, smiling at Stafford.
“No problem,” Stafford said, a bit too cheerfully. Under his breath, he muttered, “Yeah. No problem that YOU have the perfect ship and the perfect wife and the perfect ability to throw it all in my face,”
Further down the table, Jeffery and Wowryk-2 were conversing.
“So,” Jeffery pressed, “This romantic vacation you took my counterpart on. Did anything, uh, happen?”
“Mr. Jeffery,” Wowryk-2 said, a sly smile on her face, “It’s really not proper of you to ask me that,”
“I agree,” Wowryk growled.
“We had a good time,” Jeffery-2 added, smiling at Wowryk-2 as he took her hand and kissed it. Wowryk-2 giggled.
Awkwardly, Jeffery reached out to take Wowryk’s hand, only to miss as she reached for her wine.
“So,” Jall-2 asked his counterpart, “What did you do to get demoted anyway?”
“Fun stuff,” Jall was still evasive on that topic.
“He slept with an Admiral’s offspring,” Yanick offered.
“Really?” Jall-2’s eyebrows shot up, “Not Ensign Teker?”
Glaring at Yanick, Jall nodded.
“Hmm,” Jall-2 said thoughtfully, “I always wondered what would have happened if I’d taken him up on that offer,” he chuckled, “Good thing I had the sense to say no!”
“Our main course today is a lightly spiced filet de baveron in a wonderful Rigellian dusek sauce,” Patsy Horton announced pleasantly as her waiters started placing plates of food in front of her diners, “We also have a variety of delightful side dishes, which our waiters will be coming around with momentarily. Enjoy!” She bowed before leaving, the wide brim of her Guinanco hat blocking the view from an entire window.
“I like her,” Jall-2 said, “She has much better taste than Steven does,”
“Maybe so,” Jall countered, “But at least Steven has personality. At least in OUR universe he does,”
“Be silent and eat,” T’Parief grumbled from next to Jall. He speared his filet with one claw and proceeded to rip it in half with his sharp teeth.
Dinner went fairly smoothly from there on, and Stafford had dared to hope that the evening wouldn’t be a complete disaster. Up until he led the Silverado-2 group into Unbalanced Equations.
“YOU SELL OUT!” Steven snarled, ignoring Stafford’s shocked expression and stalking towards his counterpart, grabbing him by the front of his Guinanco robes, “YOU WORK FOR THAT NO-CLASS COMPANY??”
“Guiananco is a first rate corporation,” Steven-2 chocked as he pulled himself free of his counterpart’s grip.
“THEY PUT HARDWORKING PEOPLE LIKE ME OUT OF BUSINESS!” Steven roared.
“You could always work for them,” Steven-2 said.
“Look, Steven,” Stafford said, standing up, “Could you please save it for another time? We’re in the middle of-“
“Hey,” Stafford-2 cut in, “Where did Commander Stern go?”
“He’s a f**king sell-out!” Steven snapped.
“I told you that story in confidence,” Jall hissed at Yanick, “That means you don’t repeat it!”
“I hope we didn’t make him feel bad,” Elain commented to Stafford-2.
“You’re so beautiful,” Jeffery-2 said, giving Wowryk-2 a quick but deep kiss.
Jeffery downed his glass of scotch, slamming it to the bar hard enough to shatter the fancy glass stem.
A dozen voices rose into a babble of complaints, accusations and objections.
“EVERYBODY SHUT UP!” Stafford and Stafford-2 hollered together. Silence fell.
“You,” Stafford pointed at Steven, “Calm down. Now. You,” he pointed at Steven-2, “Back to your ship. Now!” he turned to his counterpart, “Now, how about we get something to drink?”
Still grumbling, Steven fought to put his pleasant ‘bartender face’ back on as he started mixing drinks for the group of twins. It soon became obvious that there was another strong difference between the two universes: The Silverado-2 crew had less practice at holding their liquor.
“Where’d Stern go?” Stafford-2 wondered again, wandering aimless around the room, “For that matter, where’d my wife go?”
“I dunno,” Jall-2 shrugged, “I don’t remember seeing the big tall guy, or the funny blond lady.”
“Hey! Chris!,” Stafford-2 shouted to Stafford, “I can’t find my Security Chief!”
“Well, YOU figure that one out!” Stafford snapped, falling back into his chair.
“Computer! Where is Commander Stern?” Stafford-2 demanded.
There was a hum as he disappeared into a swirl of transporter sparkles.
The Silverado-2 officers jumped to their collective feel and started to protest.
“Sylvia!” Stafford said, exasperated, “Bring him back, PLEASE!”
“Do I have to?” Sylvia asked, “He’s a prick,”
“Yes, you have to!”
“OK,” Stafford turned to his shocked counterpart, “Her name is Sylvia, not ‘Computer’, and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ or you’ll piss her off!”
Stafford-2 looked like he wanted to say something, but instead collected his dignity and spoke.
“Sylvia? Please tell me where Commander Stern is,” he said.
“Of course,” Sylvia promptly responded, “Was that so hard? Your Commander Stern is with our Lieutenant Stern, in his quarters,”
“What the hell is he doing there?” Jall-2 demanded.
“Let’s go,” Stafford-2 said, grabbing Jall by the arm and marching out the door,”
“I wonder if he realizes he has the wrong Jall,” Jall-2 wondered aloud.
“Serves him right,” Stafford grumbled. He shoved his hands in his pockets and sauntered over to the windows. Frowning, he withdrew his hand. A small piece of paper had been in his pocket, the words ‘Your quarters, now,” written on it.
“Interesting,” Stafford mused.
Stafford-2 and Jall arrived on the junior officer’s residential deck.
“C’mon Jall,” Stafford-2 said, still tipsy, “Let’s go get our security dude back,”
“Uh, right,” Jall shrugged. Hey, if this guy wanted to think he was first officer of a Sovereign-class ship, who was he to object?
They reached the door to Stern’s quarters.
“Stafford to Stern,” Stafford-2 tapped at his comm. No answer.
“Jall to Stern,” Jall tried. No response.
“Let’s just open this door then…” Stafford-2 starting tapping his security clearance into the computer, certain that both he and his counterpart would have chosen the same code: the model number of their first shuttlepod.
The doors slid open, revealing both Sterns. They were, to be polite, out of uniform.
“Oh God,” Stafford-2 gasped, stepping back from the door. Jall didn’t move until Stafford-2 grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away, allowing the doors to slide silently shut.
Several silent moments passed.
“Did you know he was-“ Stafford-2 started.
“No,” Jall cut him off, shocked.
“Do you think they saw us?”
“No,” Jall said, starting to chuckle as he headed back to Unbalanced Equations.
“I never would have guessed,” Stafford-2 went on, still shell-shocked, “I mean, he’s a security guy! He seemed so, um, not that way! No offense or anything.”
“Huh?” Now it was Jall’s turn to be surprised. He’d always been fairly discreet, and even Yanick had gone at lengths to keep his off-duty activities secret from the rest of the senior staff.
“Y’know,” Stafford-2 went on, “I didn’t think he was one of, uh, y’know. Into guys.”
Clearly the Jall from Silverado-2 hadn’t bothered to take those precautions. And yet Stafford-2 still respected him enough to keep him as First Officer.
“You learn something new every day,” Jall said dryly.
Stafford stepped carefully into his quarters. The lights were on low and music was playing softly in the background.
Gulping, Stafford moved through the living area, passing his cluttered dinner table as he moved from his ‘dining room corner’ over to his ‘living room corner’.
Somebody was in his bedroom.
Peeking through the door like a lost little boy, he found a slim and supple female form spread comfortably over his bed.
“Hello, handsome,” Elain said, her voice oozing seduction.
“Uh, what are you doing here?” Stafford asked.
“Three guesses!” Elain said, jumping off the bed and tackling Stafford, sending them both to the floor.
Jeffery approached Wowryk as she looked out the windows of Unbalanced Equations. Silverado-2 was visible to one side as the larger ship kept pace with Silverado. She stiffened as an arm wrapped around her waist.
“Hey, beautiful,” Jeffery breathed in her ear.
Wowryk pulled away, catching the scent of whiskey on his breath.
“Simon, please. We’re in public,” she said coldly.
“So?” he asked, “That doesn’t bother the others!”
“It bothers me!” Wowryk replied.
“Are ye ashamed of me?” Jeffery asked, “Are ye ashamed that we’re together?”
“Of course not,” Wowryk said, “I just-“
Jeffery moved to kiss her.
“Uh, oh,” Gibson muttered to Yvonnokoff, “Looks like somebody’s about to get his face beat in,”
Yvonnokoff turned just in time to see Wowryk push Jeffery away.
“I will NOT engage in this public display of affection!” she snapped.
“And Ah won’t hide what we have together!” Jeffery shot back.
“Have together?” Wowryk turned and turned to leave, “We’ll see just what we ‘have together’!”
“I am so proud of her,” Yvonnokoff smiled, “Zhat is months of therapy at work!’
“You kidding, Vonna?” Gibson chuckled, “She ripped him apart!”
“Jas,” Yvonnokoff said, “But she used her words, not fists. Is great progress!”
“Noel,” Jeffery said angrily, grabbing Wowryk by the arm, “Kiss me. Now!”
“How dare you!” Wowryk snapped, “You can’t tell me what to do!”
“Oh no?” Jeffery shot back, “Isn’t that what the Bible teaches? That women are inferior and have to do what the man says? Do we stone Yanick to death if she ever cheats on T’Parief? If we have a daughter, should Ah sell her into slavery when she turns thirteen?”
Wowryk was speechless.
“Ah can read!” Jeffery snapped, “Ah can read well enough to know that yer not half as perfect as ye think you are! If ye can eat pork and ye can disrespect men ye can damned well give me a kiss!”
“Jeffery,” Wowryk’s voice was calm. Very calm. Dangerously calm, “Stop. Now.”
“Why?” Jeffery exploded, “Because yer too scared of what might happen if ye just for one second did something to show that ye loved me?”
“If that’s your definition of love, if you would push that on me before I wish to consent,” Wowryk said, “Than maybe I don’t,”
Jeffery was shocked.
“That’s it then,” he said, “Ye thought we could go out and be together but that ye’d never have to physically love me?”
“If you truly cared, you would respect that!” Wowryk snapped. People around them were staring.
“Ah’m talking a kiss here!” Jeffery said, “A single, innocent kiss!”
“No,” Wowryk said, “You have no right to make me,”
“Then go,” he said, “But don’t plan on coming back until yer ready to show that yer serious,”
T’Parief was getting drunk. Really, really drunk.
Not that it took much for him anyway. Even with his large mass, it didn’t take much to knock him flat on his face. He sat in his chair, looking out the window as the stars streaked past and shrunk into the distance.
“Heya handsome,” Yanick smiled as she settled down on T’Parief’s lap, oblivious to the Wowryk and Jeffery show taking place at the other end of the room, “Penny for your thoughts?”
T’Parief regarded her for a moment; seeing her first as a fragile blond human, then as the tough but still blond farm girl that had aroused his deep affection.
“I have not seen the Captain in some time,” he said.
“Yeah, I can’t find Jeffery either, Pari,” Yanick frowned, “The other Jeffery was looking for his Noel, and got me mixed up with his Trish, and thought I’d know where his Noel is, so then we went to find our Noel, but she didn’t know either,”
T’Parief marveled at her lung capacity.
“This is getting really confusing,” Yanick finished.
“It certainly is,” T’Parief mused.
They sat in silence for several minutes.
“Tell me what’s wrong,” Yanick said softly.
T’Parief said nothing.
“T’Parief,” Yanick abandoned her use of his nickname, “You’ve been all strange since this whole thing started. I want to help you-“
“I don’t need help!” T’Parief cut her off.
“Or at least understand you,” Yanick finished.
T’Parief was quiet.
“There can be no doubt that I was created as a weapon,” he said finally, “The presence of the ‘Sobeks’, my lack of a counterpart, it all points to Slezar wanting to create something more than just spawn,”
“What would your mother say about that?” Yanick said after a moments thought.
“She often spoke of how badly she wanted children,” T’Parief admitted, “But that does not change the fact that Slezar used her, utterly and completely,”
“At least you’re 50/50,” Yanick shrugged, “One loving parent, one mad-scientist,”
“That is a remarkable insensitive thing to say,” T’Parief growled.
“And you prefer it that way,” Yanick finished.
“Er, yes,” he admitted.
“Is being a weapon, if that’s the case, really that bad?” Yanick asked, “You love your job, you have friends and family. The Captain respects you,” she moved her hand to T’Parief’s inner thigh, “and I love you,” she whispered softly.
T’Parief stood suddenly, catching Yanick as she tumbled off his lap.
“Come with me,” he said.
Stafford returned to Unbalanced Equations just as T’Parief and Yanick were leaving.
“Where were you?” Wowryk asked as he approached.
“Er,” Stafford blushed, “I was checking something in my quarters,”
“I see,” Wowryk looked at him oddly, “You look like you’ve been sweating. Was there a problem?”
“Uh,” Stafford craned his neck to look over the groups of people in the lounge. At the other entrance, he could see Stern and Stern-2 walking in, faces flushed and looking around nervously. But nobody who could come to his aid.
“Um, no. No problem at all,” Stafford said. Shrugging, Wowryk left the lounge.
Anything else he might have said was lost as a strong arm spun him around and an equally strong fist struck him hard across the jaw.
“That’s for sleeping with my wife!” Stafford-2 said coldly.
“I didn’t sleep with-“ Stafford trailed off as he saw Sylvia’s hologram standing behind Stafford-2, “Ohhh…”
“I’m sorry Chris,” Sylvia shook her head sadly, “He asked where the two of you were. I had to answer truthfully, and he decided there’s only one thing the two of you could be doing together in your quarters. Although if you ask me, you’re getting what you deserve-“
“What’s going on?” Wowryk burst back through the doors, “Are people fighting again?”
She saw Stafford lying on the deck.
“Oh. Just more testosterone poisoning, then,” she flipped her hair over her shoulder and continued stalking towards her quarters.
“Sylvia, load program T’Parief 23-B,” T’Parief ordered the holodeck control panel.
“What do we say?” Sylvia asked.
“NOW!” T’Parief snapped.
“Well, I never-“
“And disengage safety protocols,” T’Parief cut her off.
“T’Parief,” Sylvia said, a note of concern in her voice, “I don’t think-“
“Authorization T’Parief Delta Gizzard Embargo,” T’Parief snapped.
“Safety protocols disengaged,” Sylvia sighed, unable to refuse a command override, “Program complete,”
T’Parief stalked through the doors, Yanick following him.
“Where are we?” she asked, looking around. They were at the entrance to a cave. The sky was a sickly orange, the ground bare dirt, grey and bone-dry with only the occasional clump of hardy plant-life dotting the landscape. Down the slope from the cliffside in which their cave burrowed was a battle. Yanick could see Klingons, perhaps a dozen of them, fighting each other with the long, two-handed and double-pronged swords known as bat’leths.
“Wait here,” T’Parief commanded. Feeling more than a little nervous, Yanick complied.
“Sylvia,” T’Parief snapped, “This program is supposed to include a Pari-leth,”
“So it is,” Sylvia sighed, “I give up,”
The Pari-leth, designed by T’Parief’s mother Klexish for her eldest son, bore a striking resemblance to a bat’leth. The hand grips were larger and further apart, to better fit T’Parief’s large hands. The sword itself was half again the length of a bat’leth, with three prongs at each end rather than two. If only she could have used a name that didn’t include his hated nickname…
Unleashing a roar of fury that sent Yanick jumping back, T’Parief charged the fighting soldiers.
He slashed the first Klingon he saw, the razor-sharp blade cleaving the warrior in two across the stomach, blood and bodily fluids spraying onto the ground. Spinning to gain momentum, T’Parief brought his weapon up higher and sliced the second soldier/s head clean off his body.
Recognizing the new foe, both groups of fighting warriors converged on the larger reptile.
Blocking blows from two soldiers, T’Parief pushed back on his opponents’ weapons with enough force to knock them backward off their feet. His moves where quick and effective, his customary clumsiness evident only by a slight wobble as he pivoted to slash another attacker across the throat.
Throwing his pari-leth aside, there was an almost audible ‘snick’ as his claws slid out of their sheaths. Roaring again, he slammed the heads of two Klingons together so hard one could hear the crunch of bone. Spinning around, he raked his claws across the torso of another holographic warrior.
In less than two minutes, it was over.
Panting, he climbed back up the slope to where Yanick was watching, a look of abject horror on her face. He had several minor slashes from strikes that had almost connected, shiny streaks where other attacks had been deflected by his tough hide. Blood dripped from his claws and was splattered across his face like war paint.
“Do you still love me?” he rasped.