Author: Brendan Chris
“My mind to you minds….my thoughts to your thoughts….our minds are merging…our minds…are….ONE!”
Lieutenant Sevkor chanted the traditional words as he completed the mind meld. Commander Noonan, who was watching the procedure, was very certain that the Vulcans put far too much drama into a mind meld. Honestly, when making a telepathic connection, how could chanting possibly help??”
Sevkor was lying back on a sickbay bio-bed. Surrounding him were four other bio-beds on which Yanick/Stafford, T’Parief/Yanick, Jall/T’Parief and Wowryk/Jall were spread out. Sevkor had his hands touching the temples of Yanick and T’Parief. His boots were sitting on the floor and his toes were stretched out to make contact with Jall and Wowryk.
“Somebody didn’t wash his feet before we started,” Jall complained, the arch of Sevkor’s foot brushing against his nose.
“Vulcans are one if the most hygienic races in the Federation,” Sevkor said softly.
“Doesn’t smell like it to me!”
“Please, be silent. I must complete the meld.”
Reluctantly, Jall shut his mouth.
Sevkor began his chant again.
Standing next to Noonan, Stafford/Jeffery resisted the urge to pace. The collection of bio-beds blocked off half of Sickbay. Fifebee was tapping at a console, monitoring the collection of sensors and monitors aimed at the multi-mind meld. The blue and green lights flickering on the consoles were a soft counterpoint to the dancing flames of the Vulcan candles scattered throughout Sickbay in what Sevkor claimed was a carefully planned, mathematically precise order.
To Stafford, it just looked like a bunch of candles.
All five meld participants gave a sharp gasp, and intoned together:
“Our minds are one!”
“That’s the easy part,” Fifebee said softly, “The question now is whether Sevkor can direct the minds to the correct bodies.”
“He is rated very high on the Vulcan telepathic scale,” Noonan pointed out.
“Right,” Stafford said, “Which is why we’ve gotten this far. Melds with multiple people aren’t exactly common.”
As the hours passed, Stafford learned a new definition of boredom. He tried reading a book, checking the news, even typing out his log by hand. After he misspelled ‘Katra’ for the fourth time, he gave up. He couldn’t bring himself to leave his officers in the grip of some kind of neural orgy.
“Update?” he asked Fifebee.
“No change,” she said, her voice slightly sharper than it had last been. Tell-tale points growing on her ears told Stafford that one of her Vulcan personalities was in the lead at the moment, “I’m picking up high levels of neural activity, as before.”
The panel started beeping insistently.
“That’s a change!” Stafford accused.
“Quiet, please, Captain,” Noonan whispered.
“The meld is destabilizing,” Fifebee reported.
“Fix it!” Stafford hissed quietly.
“Captain,” Fifebee snapped, “this isn’t a piece of technology I can repair with the flip of a switch!”
There was a sudden gasp from all five participants, then each relaxed. Sevkor struggled weakly to sit up. Stafford and Noonan were instantly at his side.
“Are you all right?” Stafford asked.
“We…I am fine,” Sevkor said shakily.
“Did you manage to-“
“No,” Sevkor turned to face Stafford, “You will recall I gave this plan little chance of success. What slim chance we had rested on the assumption that because the minds of the persons involved have been artificially moved I would be able to dislodge them more easily. However, that was not the case.”
“Well,” Stafford said. He was silent for several moment, then, “That sucks.
“Indeed. Now please, I must rest.”
“I understand how you feel, Captain”, Admiral Edward Tunney said, his goateed visage displayed on Stafford’s terminal, “But I really must insist!”
“You must admit, Captain, the idea makes sense,” added Noonan.
“I know,” Stafford replied, pacing in his ready room as his First Officer sat on the couch, “But it feels…dishonest.”
“That can’t be helped,” sighed Tunney, “And could you come back over here please? It’s tough trying to talk to you when I can’t see you on the screen!”
Stafford spun the terminal around to face the room rather than the desk chair, the motion inducing a wave of dizziness in the Admiral.
“But you’re saying we can’t tell ANYBODY?” Stafford repeated.
“Right. Nobody. Starfleet, or otherwise.”
Tunney sighed again.
“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware that since the launch, Silverado and Operation Salvage have made a few headlines.”
“Yes,” Stafford said, cautiously.
“Then you’re probably also aware that most of those headlines have been,” Tunney searched for the right word, finally giving up and going with the blunt version, “well, embarrassing.”
“So?” Stafford asked, throwing his arms up, “Lots of ships have had embarrassing situations. How about that ship that blew up the Peace Memorial of Arachonon because they thought it was a mutant alien spider?”
“Please don’t remind me of that,” he said, then more seriously, “The thing is Captain, your ship is part of a project that was conceived by President Dillon himself. There are a lot of people, both in Dillon’s organization and among his opponents, that are keeping a very close eye on you. If you continue to mess up, they’ll use that against him.”
“We haven’t screwed everything up!” Stafford objected, “Hello? M-SIDs? Planet crusher? Matrians?”
“I know,” Edward said, holding his hands up in the ‘calm down’ gesture, “And as I told you before, that was good work. But all the same, we really want to keep this whole body-switching thing as quiet as possible.”
“Which explains,” Noonan said, “why Starfleet Public Relations requested that we do not accept calls for body switching problems on ‘The Vonna Show’ when production started.”
“Exactly,” Tunney said, “Now, from your reports, you’re not getting any closer to getting the situation resolved, am I right?”
“You’re right,” Stafford sighed, “Fifebee’s been working on it, but she hasn’t found much.”
“Well,” Tunney said, “Until you figure things out, it’s best if you behave as though everything is normal. Starting with the ceremony on Waystation.”
“Oh, did I forget to mention that? Tunney asked, frowning as he shuffled through some padds.
“Yes,” Stafford said slowly, learning down to face the image of the Admiral, “What ceremony?”
“Oh, nothing big,” Tunney grumbled, “The Vice President just wants to acknowledge a job well done.”
Stafford made a face.
“Why?” he asked, “I mean, it’s great that we’re getting recognition, but what’s with this? I didn’t even see a ‘thank you’ note for Picard when he defeated the Borg!”
“Remember that whole ‘publicity for the President’s pet project’ thing we just talked about?”
“Oh,” Stafford grimaced as he turned, “that.”
“Admiral,” Noonan said, “Don’t you think that some might find it suspicious that eliminating a very minor threat like the Matrians is worthy of public praise, while most starships get little or no thanks for saving the Federation from complete and total doom??”
“Y’know,” Tunney said, “I asked the exact same question. Y’know what I was told?”
Stafford and Noonan waited expectantly.
“‘Anything in the name of PR’,” Tunney finished.
Yawning, Stafford walked into Main Engineering for his daily inspection. With the ship still suffering severe damage from the battle with the Matrians, he had started dropping by Engineering every day to keep abreast of the situation. Until Silverado could get to a dry dock, her damaged engines couldn’t exceed Warp 3.5 and she had a big hole in her starboard saucer.
“Soooo,” he said to Jeffery as he stepped around the central control console, “What’s-AHHH!!!”
Stafford tripped and tumbled to the hard floor, having not noticed the very short Ensign Frat Naketh as he hunched down, arm deep in an access port.
“Second time this week,” he commented as Stafford worked to pick himself up, “Honestly sir, watch where you’re going!”
“Sorry,” Stafford grumbled, “I just seem to have trouble spotting midgets with bad attitudes.”
“Are ye done abusing my staff?” Jeffery/Wowryk asked, leaning against his office doorframe, “Or would ye perhaps like to try punting Frit across the shuttlebay?”
“Bite me,” Stafford muttered, “Anything new?”
“Nay. There’s nothing new today. There was nothing new YESTERDAY! There was NOTHING NEW LAST WEEK!” Jeffery turned to go back into this office, “I told ye, nothing is gonna change until we get to dry dock.”
“Don’t be such a grouch,” Stafford commented, following Jeffery.
“Sorry. It’s my, well, Dr. Wowryk’s time of the month again.”
“That, and this chastity belt is starting to chafe.”
“Too much information!” Stafford cried, flinching.
There was silence for a few moments.
“So,” Jeffery said finally, not meeting Stafford’s gaze, “we’re gonna be at Waystation tomorrow.”
“The Captain is quite a beauty, as I recall,”
“She is,” Stafford said, voice flat.
“Didn’t ye go for dinner?” Jeffery probed.
“Ye gonna try to see her again?”
“Why not?” Jeffery exploded, “Ye’ve been moping around the ship for weeks! Ye need a woman in yer life, Chris, and a ten minute roll in the sack with a Senousian doesn’t count!”
“She turned me down, remember?” Stafford pointed out, “The last thing I need is to give her the impression that I can’t take a hint. Besides, the whole body-switching thing has been classified. She wouldn’t even know it’s me,” he stopped pacing and turned back to Jeffery,” And it was more than ten minutes!”
“Stardate 56521.3, U.S.S. Ranger,” Craig Porter, Operations Officer of Waystation read from his padd, “Galaxy-class.”
“Docking Arm 5,” Commander Walter Morales replied from his Docking Control station. He and Porter were going over the advance docking assignments. Most ships didn’t bother to let Waystation know they were coming, preferring to show up at the last minute demanding berths. Others, like Starfleet ships, were running on schedules set by Command and could easily book ahead.
“Tholian freighter Leskart, class 4,” Porter ticked off his list.
“Docking Port 10,” Morales replied, keying the assignment into his panel.
“The Deyonosis, private yacht, civilian runabout,”
“Docking Bay 7, slip C.”
“Stardate 56522.4, U.S.S. Silverado, Am-“
“Ambassador-class,” Morales groaned, “Them again? Why won’t they leave us alone!?”
“We’ve only seen them once, ever…” Porter pointed out.
“Let’s see,” Morales said, “Last time they were here our station was bombed, a nasty doomsday machine was stolen and they dumped organic waste all over our hull! Plus the chaos with their parts shipment and their lovely message after SOMEBODY, no names mentioned, got himself videotaped turning the hover-rink into carnage central!”
“That was an accident,” Porter mumbled, turning back to his padd.
“Docking Arm 3,” Morales stabbed the entry into his panel.
“Having fun?” Captain Beck asked as she stepped out of her office and started walking towards the turbolift.
“Oh, tons,” Morales muttered, “Guess who’s coming to visit?”
“Silverado.” Beck said.
“How did you-“
“I just got off the comm with the Vice President,” she said, “and now I have to go borrow a banquet hall from Mr. Auditmi.
“The VP is on the Ranger. We’ve got to roll out the red carpet. To him, and to those ‘other people’!” she stepped into the turbolift and allowed the doors to close.
“I hope they don’t trash the place again,” Porter commented thoughtfully.
Arranging for a banquet hall was easy enough. Beck was able to deal with President Dillon. Compared to him, Mr. Auditmi, Dillon’s acting CEO of Dillon Enterprises, was a piece of cake. Within minutes she had the use of Banquet Hall A. She turned to leave.
“Captain,” Auditmi asked before she could reach the door, “have you read the reports concerning Silverado’s last mission?”
“Nope,” she said, “Can’t say I really cared.”
“Starfleet classified the entire incident,” Auditmi went on.
“But you know what happened anyway,” Beck said, nodding, “Good to know our security measures work so well.”
“I read the report BEFORE it was classified,” Auditmi clarified, “As you know, neither myself or Dillon Enterprises would ever-“
“Save it,” Beck said, “Have a good day!”
“But Captain,” Auditmi started.
“Look,” Beck snapped, “You don’t get it! I don’t care! We’ve got hundreds of ships passing through this station, I have better things to do than worry about what one of them was up to!”
She left the room.
“Even if the Captain was reasonably cute,” she muttered as the doors shut.
“So, you gonna ask Captain Beck out again?” Trish Yanick grabbed a seat next to where Stafford was looking out the window, sipping from a steaming mug.
“No, I am NOT!” Stafford said, turning to face her, “You’re the 4th person to ask me that!”
“Well, y’know,” Yanick looked slightly uncomfortable, “you’re both Captains, and I know you really like her. You went for dinner last time we were out this way…”
“You make it sound like we had some great romance! I briefed her on the Matrians,” Stafford said flatly, “Then her station was bombed and she told me not to call her.”
“Don’t be discouraged,” Trish put a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “maybe she’s playing hard to get!”
“I doubt it,” Stafford sat back down in his chair.
Trish was quiet for a moment.
“Y’know,” she said finally, “Ms. Dreth has a really nice rack,”
“The botanist in the arbo-“ Stafford spun to face Yanick, “HEY! You’re trying to play matchmaker!”
“Well, kinda,” Yanick admitted.
“This isn’t about Beck then! You’re just trying to set me up with a woman. Any woman!”
“Well, I’d be sure she was hot, at least,” Yanick said, “Jall wanted to try setting you up with Crewman Borsk, but I didn’t think you’d like the pustules on her-“
“You’ve been such a grouch lately!” Yanick said, “Moping around like a lost puppy! Hanging out with the night crew, visiting Engineering every day….you’re doing bachelor stuff!”
“I am a bachelor!” Stafford objected.
“You need to date,” Yanick insisted, “You’re not getting any younger. Don’t you want somebody special in your life?”
“I have nearly 800 special people in my life,” Stafford said, “Y’know? Captain’s responsibilities, and all that stuff?”
“That’s not the same,” Yanick said, “You need companionship.”
“Hello! I got laid on Senous!”
“Fifteen minutes of companionship doesn’t count!”
Stafford turned red.
“It was a lot more than fifteen minutes!” he grumbled, shifting his weight.
“Look,” Yanick said, “I’ll admit that T’Parief and I haven’t been all that close, since he’s in my body and I’m in yours, but I still don’t know what I’d do without him to spend time with.”
“Look,” Stafford said finally, “Dating and I don’t get along. Period. End of story!”
“I think you’re making a big mistake,” Yanick said.
“Uh-huh. Can we change the topic now?”
Stafford wouldn’t admit it to Yanick, but she was right. He needed to start dating.
That realization wasn’t anything new. He’d figured that out ages ago, before that final Matrian attack on Senous. But in the ensuing chaos he’d been forced to push most of his personal life onto the back burner.
Lately though, his feelings of loneliness had returned. Obviously his crew was starting to notice if they were trying to hook him up.
Normally, he’d head down to one of the now-functional holodecks and have a little fun. But with Sylvia’s new sentient status, he felt very nervous about romancing even a hologram. Who knows what the computer could be watching, especially after she sent in a video of the Silverado crew engaging in drunken activities to a vid-show.
Stafford’s conscious train of though began to derail as he tried to pay attention to Yanick. Somebody, the subject had changed to the ‘Purple Pony’ art exhibit she’d gone to see on Andoria and from there to some purple-eyed Xenexian woman she’d gone drinking with back on her previous posting.
Man, that girl could ramble!
The Operations deck of Waystation was bustling with activity, as normal. Commander Morales stood behind the Docking Control console, tapping at the controls as he helped guide ships and shuttles around the huge station’s many docking facilities. Craig Porter was at Operations, monitoring a slight variation in the stations power core. Captain Beck was in her office and Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell was down in the Security Office in the Starfleet Square Mall. Looking out the windows that circled the Ops deck, one could see the upper surface of Waystation’s upper saucer, along with over a dozen ships occupying the docking ports that extended from the saucers edge. Docking Arm 5 extended up from the saucer to where the U.S.S. Ranger sat floating gently in space, her gleaming hull dominating the view on that side of the station. As Porter watched, a small civilian runabout slipped past the Ranger, heading for one of the mammoth docking bays that sat atop the station.
Waystation was shaped like a large spindle, or like a dumbbell sitting on one end. Essentially two Ambassador-class saucers connected by a shaft, the station dwarfed any starship built. Each of the two saucers making up the station had been extensively rebuilt and expanded. The lower saucer had been altered the least to the external viewer, and still held the same shape as it had in it’s previous incarnation as a starship. The only differences were the fact that it was now much, much bigger, and had been flipped upside down. The lower saucer contained residential decks, the Starfleet Academy Annex and various other living facilities.
Moving up the station, up a long connecting shaft, one would come to the upper saucer. This saucer had undergone extensive renovations, becoming Waystation’s commercial section. Docking ports extended from the outer saucer edge while several docking arms could be extended from the upper surface in order to accommodate larger vessels. Additional decks had been added to the upper saucer to support the Starfleet Square Mall and almost a dozen decks of commercial space. The top of this structure sported a ring of skylights, in the center of which was mounted the Operations module. The primary docking bays also extended from this section of the station. Both saucers featured upper and lower phaser rings and multiple quantum torpedo launchers, making Waystation the most heavily fortified outpost in the sector.
“Silverado is requesting permission to dock,” Morales reported,” I’m sending them to Arm 3.”
“Isn’t that the docking arm they ripped off the station last time?” Porter asked.
Looking again out the windows, Porter could see the old Ambassador-class ship easing up to the station. Last time he’d seen that ship she’d looked good as new. Now, he could see hastily patched battle damage on the saucer and engineering hulls, a bite-shaped chunk missing from the saucer and a big hole in one warp nacelle.
“Geez,” he commented, “Looks like they had a rough ride!”
“Some ship crews have a habit of getting into trouble,” Morales said dryly.
“Kinda like us?”
Captain Stafford was met at the airlock by possibly the most irritating breed of any species….the bureaucrat. The man proceeding to walk right past him and started shaking Yanick/Stafford’s hand.
“Captain Stafford, so good to meet you,” the man said in a nasal voice, “Please, have your officers follow us so we can get the ceremony over with.” He immediately turned and started walking down the tunnel through the docking arm to the station proper.
“Play the part,” Stafford/Jeffery muttered to Yanick/Stafford.
“Oh, right,” she said, “I can do this!” Trying to imitated Stafford’s proper walk, Yanick pushed back her shoulders and started walking stiffly down the tunnel, looking as though she had something crammed up an unpleasant place.
Stafford/Jeffery, T’Parief/Yanick, Wowryk/Jall, Jall/T’Prief, Jeffery/Wowryk, Fifebee and Noonan followed pace.
“I do NOT walk like that!” Stafford muttered to himself.
The officers were rushed to the Starfleet Suites section of the station. Starfleet Suites was the name of the hotel and conference center run by Dillon Enterprises. Admiral Tunney was waiting in the antechamber.
“Good, you’re all here,” he said, “Nice to meet you in person and all that. So here’s how it’s going to go: We’re broadcasting in fifteen minutes. I’ll be up on the stage with Mr. Auditmi, Captain Beck and Vice President Heran Roloi. When the Federation Anthem starts to play, all of you walk up the aisle. The VP is going to make a quick speech, you exit stage left, and then the VP and I will finish up with a bit of a press conference. Any questions?”
“Do we get to-“ Stafford started.
“No. Don’t say anything. Just walk up, look pretty, then leave,” As if to demonstrate, Tunney turned on his heel, then walked out of the room.
“How do ya like that,” Yanick complained, “we’re, like, getting no credit for anything!”
“Standard procedure,” Noonan pointed out, “This whole deal is nothing but a publicity scam for Operation Salvage and President Dillon.”
There was silence for several minutes.
“Where is Dillon, anyway?” Wowryk/Jall wondered, “I haven’t seen anything about him in the news lately,”
“Where’s Jall?” Yanick/Stafford wanted to know, “He was just here…”
“I’m still right here,” Jall said, re-appearing at Yanick’s side.
“Where you were,” Stafford asked, suspicious.
“Oh, I was just arranging a little surprise for the VIPs out there,” Jall said, a gleam in his/T’Parief’s red eye.
“What did you do?” Stafford demanded, “If you did something to embarrass us…”
Stafford was interrupted by the sound of a trumped playing a fast, staccato beat. He exchanged glances with Noonan.
“This isn’t the Federation Anthem,” he said. Up on the stage, Tunney and Beck were exchanged confused glances.
“I think we better get walking,” Noonan said.
With Yanick/Stafford in the lead, the Silverado officers began walking in twos down the aisle. Jall was bobbing his/T’Parief’s head to the beat, giving the reptilian officer’s body an uncharacteristically rhythmic look.
“Stop it,” Wowryk/Jall muttered as she discreetly elbowed him in the side, “T’Parief would never walk that way.” Reluctantly, Jall stiffened up.
“Captain,” Fifebee hissed behind Stafford, “We must walk faster,”
“Why?” Stafford whistered back.
“Because-“ Fifebee was cut off as the lyrics started:
Late night Adonis
Working after hours
Ripples on my chest
Never got a nights rest!
“Thissongistraditionallyplayedduringtheperformanceofamalestripper,” Fifebee whispered as fast as possible.
This took only seconds to register with Stafford.
“Yanick!” he hissed, “Double time! NOW!”
Following that command, the Silverado command crew jogged straight for the podium. Mercifully, the music stopped after they mounted the steps, before the lyrics could start again.
“Fortunately,” Fifebee whispered, “we did not make it to the verse regarding ‘touching and squeezing’.”
“Thank God for that,” Stafford whispered back.
“And, um, now, ladies and gentleman,” the Vice President was saying, working to recover his decorum, “I’d like you to meet Captain Christopher Stafford and his officers. Not only did they discover a dangerous alien technology right in Earth orbit, they then proceeded to track down the source of that threat!”
“That’s not what happened,” Stafford whispered to Noonan, “Nobody knew the Matrians were there! Starfleet picked our course at random!”
“Through diplomacy and negotiation,” the VP went on, “The crew of the Silverado peacefully resolved the situation with the Matrians, leading to a new era of understanding between out peoples.”
” Diplomacy?? We blasted their fleet,” T’Parief muttered, confused, “And a Senousian destroyed their way of life!”
“…and so, on behalf of the Federation, I say thank you,” the Vice President applauded. The assembled reporters and such politely followed suit.
Tunney and Beck promptly escorted Stafford and crew off the stage while the VP continued talking.
“Now, if anybody has any questions regarding Operation Salvage, I’d be happy to…”
“What the hell was that?” Yanick whined, “We stood there for two minutes while some guy told a bunch of lies about us!”
“What were you expecting?” grumbled Jall, “A fruit and cheese basket??”
“I thought we were getting a thank you!” Yanick cried, “Instead we got the ‘wham, bam, thank you officer’!”
“It’s politics, Trish,” Stafford sighed, “they really don’t care about us. It’s all about Dillon’s stupid project.”
“That sucks,” Yanick crossed her arms and pouted.
Daphne Nicholson eased out of the banquet hall close on the tail of the Silverado officers. Covering the Silverado thing wasn’t exactly her choice assignment. Unfortunately, Joan Redding had pulled seniority on her so she could go cover the Galactic Beach Volleyball Championship on Pacifica.
Vice President Roloi’s mention of ‘diplomacy and negotiation’ had immediately created several questions in Jolene’s mind, mostly because she had taken a look at Silverado herself before the conference. Ships didn’t have pieces blasted off during peaceful negotiations! Something was up.
Watching carefully, Daphne noticed something odd; the Silverado officers were acting nothing like their personnel records had indicated. The Captain was whining like a little girl and the engineer was snapping orders. As she watched, the large, reptilian security chief put his hands on his hips, defending his choice of music.
Daphne was wondering what had happened to the Federation Anthem. She had only recognized the replacement song because she and her sorority sisters had taken a trip to Risa as soon as they graduated high school. But for a Gorn/Klingon/Andorian to program a stip song into a press conference?
Something was definitely wrong with this crew.
After taking a turbolift down from the Starfleet Suites, the Silverado officers found themselves on the upper level of the Starfleet Square mall. Looking down they could see the food court and the hover rink along with various shops and stands. Despite the name, the mall was actually ring-shaped and circled the interior of the upper saucer. The Mall complex was located in the expanded segment of the upper saucer, close to the main docking bays. Looking up past several decks of one-way windows that hid the doings of Dillon Enterprises from the general public, skylights looked out into space. To her left and right Yanick could see nothing but storefronts, disappearing as the curve of the mall hid them from sight.
“Y’know,” she said to Stafford, “last time we were here, I never did get the full shopping experience…”
“Me neither,” Wowryk added.
“How do ya plan on trying stuff on when you don’t have your own bodies?” Jall asked with a grin. Standing behind their girlfriends, T’Parief/Yanick and Jeffery/Wowryk started frantically shaking their heads, gesturing for Jall to please, for the love of God, SHUT THE HELL UP!
Their protests went unnoticed.
“That’s a good point,” Wowryk said thoughtfully. She turned to T’Parief and Yanick, “C’mon, boys.”
“Do we get a choice in this?” Jeffery asked weakly.
“NO!” snapped Wowryk and Yanick.
“This is gonna be so much fun!” Yanick squealed, “I get to see what I’ll look like in all those cloths! I can dress myself up, try different fashions, be sure my butt doesn’t look too big…”
“Please,” T’Parief muttered to Stafford, “Kill us now.”
“I dunno girls,” Stafford said, “It’s gonna be hard for you to stay in character…”
The expressions on Yanick/Stafford and Wowryk/Jall’s faces left little room for discussion.
“Fine!” Stafford conceded, “Go nuts.”
“Hey, what’s going on down there?” T’Parief asked, pointing over the railing to the main level.
A mob of shoppers were converging on one individual, waving pads and styli frantically, begging for autographs. In the center of the mess working to free herself, was Counselor Eva Yvonnokoff.
“I guess her show was well-received,” Noonan commented.
Everybody split off going their separate ways; the ladies went straight for the Klingon formal wear shop, Stafford towards the food court and Noonan and Fifebee off to wander the mall.
Stafford was sitting at a seat near the entrance to the Andorian Restaurant, munching on something unidentifiable from ‘Sandwich or What?’. Next time, he decided, he’d try the ‘sandwich’ as opposed to the ‘what’.
He had just about finished his meal when Captain Beck stormed out of the turbolift, Commander Morales and Lieutenant Commander Porter in tow.
“I can’t believe those people,” Beck fumed, “All that fuss over a little two-bit empire!”
Easing carefully behind a potted plant, Stafford strained to listen in.
“Y’know,” Porter said, “It’s not their fault that Dillon-“
“I’m not talking about the Silverado people!” Beck replied stopping by the restaurant entrance, “I’m talking about the politicians! Making such a big deal out of Dillon’s little pet project! You’ll notice that they never mentioned who took command of Silverado when Stafford was knocked out!”
“They didn’t mention who fried her power conduits either,” Morales said with a slight grin, referring to Lieutenant Commander Russel, Waystation’s Chief of Security.
“The whole thing is a pile of political bulls**it,” Beck sighed.
“Judging from the looks on their faces,” Morales said, “the Silverado folks agree with you.”
“Yeah,” Beck agreed, “it’s not their fault.”
Stafford smiled to himself. Good to see that the relationship between his crew and Waystation would remain properly cordial and professional.
“So are we gonna, y’know, talk to them?” Porter was asking, “They did invite us to that party they had before they left.”
“Reception,” Beck corrected, “And yeah, I’m going to go have a chat with the Captain now. Treat them like any other starship crew, just don’t give the feeling they’re anything special.”
“Gotcha,” Porter grinned, “Try to go easy on the Captain!”
Beck looked annoyed.
“He’s cute, OK?” she admitted, glancing quickly at Morales, “But not THAT cute!”
“Cute, huh?” Stafford/Jeffery muttered to himself, hiding as he was behind the plant, “Well, Captain Beck, maybe I just will say hi after all…”
“Captain Stafford!” whispered a quiet voice.
“What?” Stafford jumped and spun around,” Um, nay,” he started plastering on a fake accent, trying to mimick Jeffery, “Ah yam Simon Jeffery…Ah yam jeyust having me self a bit of-“
“Please, Captain,” smirked the intruder. He was taller than even Stafford’s regular body, with shoulders like an ox. His head was shaved bald, and he was dressed in a perfectly tailored black suit, “I know perfectly well who you really are.”
“What do you want?” Stafford asked carefully, all thoughts of Beck gone as he contemplated the damage the huge man’s fists could do.
“Somebody wants to talk to you,” replied the stranger.
“OK,” Stafford said, stepping carefully back, “where is he?”
“Not here. Come with me.”
“Um, no,” Stafford was getting pretty nervous now, “I’m not going God-knows-where with you!”
Looking around carefully, Stafford’s visitor leaned in to whisper even more softly.
“This concerns a solution to your current…dilemma.”
“Ohhhh….” Stafford quickly weighed the odds of being severely beaten and compared them to how good it would be to be back in his own body.
“Lead the way!”
Stafford followed the suited giant, who identified himself as ‘Gary’, into one of the turbolifts on the inner side of the mall. The lift shifted towards the center of the station, then dropped straight down. Stafford assumed they were traveling down the connecting tube to the lower saucer.
The doors snapped open, revealing a nondescript corridor, identical to any other section of the station. Unlike Silverado, which had suffered a minor error during reconstruction, Waystation’s corridors matched, no matter what deck you were on. Gary led Stafford down the curving corridor to a small cargo bay.
“Nice to meet you again, Captain,” a short, Zakdorn male emerged from behind one of the cargo containers.
“You!” Stafford laughed, relieved, “I know you! You’re Mr. Checkmi. Or Mr. Lookitmi. Or something like that…”
“Mr. Auditmi,” replied Auditmi, annoyed.
“Yeah! I remember you! Built any new doomsday devices lately?”
“That device,” Auditmi said tightly, “was meant to advance Federation science. It was NOT a doomsday device!”
“Right. Tell that to the walnut-sized lump of rock about five light-years from here-“
“Captain, do you want my help or not!” Auditmi snapped.
“Oh, right,” Stafford refocused, “What kinda help?”
“With your body-switching problem,” Auditmi replied.
“How do you know about that anyway?” Stafford asked.
“I read the report.”
“That report was classified!” Stafford objected, “Good to know our security measures-“
“I read it BEFORE it was classified! Why does-“ Auditmi stopped to take a deep breath, “Do you want my help or not?”
“Yeah, that would really be great,” Stafford said, “Between leg shaving, glitter and nail polish, I need to get my body back and away from Yanick as soon as-“ Stafford’s eyes bugged out as he gasped.
“Yanick! Oh God! Beck is going to talk to me, but she doesn’t know it’s Yanick! She’s gonna-“ Stafford stood to leave. Gary planted a meaty hand on his shoulder and forced him back down.
“We’re not done,” Auditmi said.
“But…” Stafford trailed off, “You’re right, this is more important.”
Krilik’s Klingon Formal Wear Shop
T’Parief/Yanick sighed as he stepped out of the dressing room. He was wearing a blood red steel bustier coupled with a skirt of steel plaits. Yanick’s breasts were pushed up uncomfortably high. From the dressing room next door, Jeffery/Wowryk was struggling to don a more conservative Huq’Dakar-fur coat.
“Oh!” Yanick/Stafford said happily, clapping her/Stafford’s hands and electing strange looks from other shoppers, “That looks SOO sexy! Twirl!”
“Turn around!” Yanick said, twirling her finger in the air, “let me see the whole thing!”
Obediently, T’Parief started turning.
“I don’t know,” Wowryk said, “that skirt is a bit short…”
“But I, um, she,” Yanick corrected, “has the legs for it!”
“It’s not proper!” Wowryk insisted.
“Noel,” Yanick said, hands on hips, “what did we agree?”
Wowryk blew out a frustrated breath.
“That I wouldn’t lecture you on proper lady’s dress and that you wouldn’t drag me into Nandegar’s Secret,”
“Right!” Yanick said triumphantly, adding under her breath, “Like I wanna see Breen lingerie anyway!”
“Oh look!” Yanick pointed, “There’s Jef, um, Dr. Wowryk!”
“Ah feel ridiculous!” Jeffery grumbled, draped as he was from head to toe in the thick, warm coat, “It’s too warm! Why can’t Ah wear something sexy, like T’Par- um, Yanick?”
“Because I said so!” Wowryk snapped, “Now go get the hat!”
“Next outfit!” Yanick said happily.
“But this is the third one!” T’Parief objected.
“So haven’t you made up your mind yet?”
“After three outfits?” Yanick laughed, “Puh-leeze! We’ve gotta go though at least a dozen more. Stop whining!”
“I am not whining!” T’Parief/Yanick objected.
“C’mon! I’ve lived with that voice for almost thirty years, I know when it’s whining!”
Grumbling, T’Parief trudged back into the dressing room.
“I must say,” Krilick, the store owner commented, “I have rarely seen males so assertive in a shopping environment. Most males cower in fear while the females bark commands!”
“If only you knew,” muttered Wowryk.
Beck strode into Krilik’s, finding Stafford and one of his officers browsing through the merchandise. Taking a quick breath, she approached him.
“Welcome back to Waystation,” she said, smiling.
“Captain Beck!” Yanick/Stafford exclaimed, “Hi! How ya doin! Wow, you look great! Did you change your hair?”
“Um, yeah, I did actually,” Beck replied, somewhat taken aback by Stafford’s enthusiasm.
“Wow! It looks SOO good! Oh, and, I’m, y’know, really sorry about the damage I caused here last time.”
“It’s in the past,” she said finally, “I just hope whoever’s piloting on the way out remembers to disengage the docking clamps!”
“Oh yeah,” Yanick/Stafford giggled, “I’ll make sure I do that!”
“You pilot the ship now?” Beck asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Yup! And I’m dating the Chief of Security, and-“
“Woah, hold on,” Beck said, her smile sliding off her face, “Isn’t your Security Chief the big lizard-looking, um, GUY?”
“Yeah,” Yanick/Stafford sighed, “I know, we’ve got some things to work out. But he’s really a good guy, underneath all the scales.”
“I bet,” Beck was quiet for a moment, “Well, I guess dinner is out of the question then!” she forced out a laugh, sounding false even to her.
“Naw,” Yanick/Stafford said, “Just cuz I’m seeing somebody it doesn’t mean I can’t hang around with the girls!”
“No, really,” Beck started backing out of the shop, “It’s fine! I gotta go. I just remembered that the…um, Ops rotation motivators are being upgraded today. Gotta be there! Enjoy your stay!” Beck left quickly.
“What was that about?” T’Parief/Yanick asked, emerging from the dressing room in a resplendent red gown.
“Captain Beck wanted to ask me for dinner,” Yanick said, frowning, “but she changed her mind.”
“She probably thought you were Captain Stafford.”
“Oh, s**t,” Yanick gasped, “Chris is going to be SOOOO pissed at me!”
Beck walked quickly down the mall concourse, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Porter, chatting it up with Lieutenant Fifebee, excused himself to walk alongside Beck.
“So?” he asked, “Did he hit on you again?”
Beck looked at Porter, opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again.
“Remember how I turned him down the last time he was here?” she finally asked.
“I think I made him gay!”
“So you really think you can help us?” Stafford was asking Auditmi.
“No!” Auditmi snapped, “I dragged you down here to an out of the way cargo bay just to mess with your head! YES, I think I can help you!”
“Because,” Auditmi replied through clenched teeth, “you helped me with a problem I was having several months ago. I want to return the favor. Also, President Dillon would want this resolved before it can reflect badly on his project.”
“That makes sense. So what’s your plan?”
“Dillon Enterprises has been…examining the data on the Matrian Spatial Interphase Devices. We’ve got a pretty good handle on how the device integrates itself with the rest of the network, but we don’t have-“
“You sound like my science officer,” Stafford complained, “could you cut to the chase?’
“Fine. We can use the M-SID on your ship along with a special neural interface technology we’ve been developing to return you all to your own bodies.”
“Sounds good!” Stafford said happily, jumping to his feet, “When can we start?”
Gary slammed him back into the chair.
“What we need,” Auditmi said, “is a ‘controlling entity’. I understand the M-SID won’t properly recreate the virtual reality without some kind of controller.”
“Oh yeah,” Stafford said, “We know. We can handle that.”
“Good,” Auditmi said, “Once in the virtual reality, the controlling entity should be able to open ‘doorways’ to the interfaces on the various bodies. Your minds can then use the doorways to return home.”
Dr. Amedon Nelson was sitting in the food court of the Starfleet Square Mall when she noticed an unfamiliar officer walking by. Pale and slim with jet-black hair, he looked very young to be wearing Commander’s pips. Noticing her gaze, he proceeded to her table.
“Dr. Nelson,” he said, his voice calm and smooth, “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Do I know you?”
“Commander Noonan, U.S.S. Silverado,” Noonan replied with a smile, “We met several months ago.”
“Oh right,” Nelson said, “the weirdo! I remember now.”
“Weirdo,” Noonan looked thoughtful, “close enough. May I join you?”
“I guess,” Nelson gestured at the seat across from her, “What can I do for you?”
“I was,” Noonan said, “hoping to ask you about your symbiont.”
“Midon?” Nelson shrugged, “OK. What do you wanna know?”
“I’m mostly interested, “Noonan said, “In how you feel the inclusion of Midon has impacted your personality.”
“Well,” she said, “Midon’s personality merged with my own. The resulting personality was a blending of the two of us, some traits coming from Amelia, others coming from Midon. Why are you so interested?”
“I am,” Noonan searched for the correct phrase, “in a similar situation.”
“You have a symbiont?”
“No. But I am joined, in a sense.”
“I’ve never heard of anybody being joined without a symbiont,” she said.
“I’m part of a larger life-force, you could say,” Noonan said carefully, “One of the great mysteries of my people is how much this other life-force changes who we are. Some have spent centuries trying to learn about themselves.”
“Fascinating,” Nelson said, “Medically speaking. I’d love to learn more about this ‘life-force’. It could possibly even be connected to my studies of joining and the Brakto in general-“
Noonan sighed, realizing he wasn’t going to learn anything useful from Nelson.
“Doctor Nelson,” he intoned, reaching out with his mind, “You will forget I was ever here…”
Stafford and his officers had returned to Silverado, following several hours of shopping. Jeffery and T’Parief slouched in their seats, exhausted, while Wowryk and Yanick kept comparing their purchases.
“OK, everybody’s attention please,” Stafford called.
“HEY, I’M TALKING HERE!”
Everybody turned to look at him.
“All right,” he said, “I had a little chat with Mr. Auditmi today. Dillon Enterprises has a plan, unofficially, to return us to our own bodies.”
“YES!” screamed T’Parief.
“I agree,” Wowryk said calmly.
Stafford quickly outlined the plan, then turned to Fifebee and slid an isolinear data chip across the table to her.
“This outlines their plan.”
“I’ll review this tonight,” Fifebee promised.
“Problem,” Noonan pointed out, “How are we going to get three hundred crewman and a Matrian SID into Dillon Enterprises?”
“It would make more sense for them to come here,” Jeffery pointed out.
“They’ve got some specialized equipment that can’t be moved,” Stafford said, “Plus, they’ve already got a facility prepped for this.”
“We need a diversion,” T’Parief pointed out.
“I’ve already given that some thought,” Stafford said, “Now we just need to talk to Counselor Yvonnokoff…”
The next afternoon Beck was just coming off-duty from Operations, ready for a hot v’haspant as she arrived at the Starfleet Square Mall, heading for her favorite Andorian restaurant. The mall though, was abnormally crowded, with beings of all descriptions rushing down the concourse.
“Beck to Jones,”
“Jones here,” replied the liaison officer, “what can I do for you, Captain?”
“Is there something happening on the mall I should know about? It’s getting pretty crowded in here.”
“Umm,” Beck could here tapping as Jones went through her events listing, “Nope, nothing today.”
“Thanks, Beck out.”
Curious, Beck followed the throng of people. As they came around the curve in the mall concourse, she saw a huge crowd had gathered in front of the AWN offices. Filling the entire concourse from inner to outer wall, the crowd included beings of all races and genders. Almost everybody had a personal communicator of some sort gripped firmly in one hand.
“What’s going on?” Beck asked one woman, decked out in a huge, flowery dress.
“They’re broadcasting ‘The Vonna Show’, live! RIGHT FROM WAYSTATION!” the woman said excitedly, “Oh, I hope my call goes through!”
Beck quickly recalled what she could about the Associated Worlds Network public office. One thing she could remember was that there was a small broadcast studio, separated from the mall concourse by a panel of transparent aluminum.”
“Beck to Russel,”
“I’m a bit busy here, Captain,” came Security Chief Russel’s voice, “We’ve got a bit of a crowd-control situation going on here..”
“I noticed. Is there a particular reason why we weren’t informed of this broadcast?”
“I dunno,” Russel said, “but my team and I are on top of things. We’re on the upper level, keeping an eye on what’s happening.”
There was a roar from the front of the crowd, quickly spreading.
“Russel!” Beck yelled, straining to be heard, “What’s happening!”
“Vonna’s in the studio!” Russel yelled back, “And damn! She’s HOT!”
“AWN has started the broadcast,” Noonan reported, “ Between Yvonnokoff’s fans and our non-switched crew, Waystation’s commercial levels are in chaos.”
“That should keep Beck busy for a while,” Stafford said.
“How the hell did Yvonnokoff get so popular so fast??” Yanick wondered.
“AWN has an excellent marketing branch,” Fifebee commented.
All three hundred men and women who had been involved in the venture into the Matrian Dreamland that resulted in rampant body-switching squeezed through the docking arm and down into Waystation. Bypassing the now chaotic commercial decks, they slipped out of the docking facilities. Yanick was bringing up the rear as the last of the crew made their way into a back entrance to the Research and Development wing of Dillon Enterprises.
“Captain Stafford,” came an official sounding voice, “would you please explain to the Federation what really happened when you were in Matrian space?”
Spinning around, Yanick found herself face to face with Daphne Nicholson, followed closely by a Latino man wearing a camera headset. Daphne shoved a microphone under Yanick/Stafford’s face, looking expectantly at Yanick.
“No comments!” Yanick called out, backing towards the door.
“Isn’t it true that Starfleet is covering up a mind-altering incident that occurred during that mission?”
“NO!” Yanick called, frantically looking around for help. The last crewman had already entered Dillon Enterprises, leaving Yanick on her own, “Uh, everything is in the report!”
“That doesn’t explain the unusual behavior of you and your senior officers,” Daphne went on, looking towards the camera, “In fact, one would suspect that…” Daphne trailed off, realizing that when she had turned her back, Yanick/Stafford had bolted, sealing the door behind her.
“Damn,” cursed Nicholson, “C’mon, Gomez, we’ll try again later.”
“Meet Professor Glorx,” Auditmi introduced, gesturing to an imposing Tellarite wearing a white lab coat, “He’ll be supervising the procedure.”
“Nice to meet you,” Stafford gave a small wave.
“Professor,” Fifebee stepped forward, “Jane Fifebee, Science Officer. Regarding your neural interface, where did you-“
“I’m sorry,” Auditmi cut in, “but our sources and research information are strictly confidential.”
“But it looks like Borg tech-“
“Nothing to worry about,” Glorx assured everybody, giving a pig-like snort, “We hook you up to the gadgets, hook the gadgets into the M-SID and the rest is up to you.”
“Ready, Doc?” Stafford asked Wowryk.
“To get my own body back? Let me think. YES!” Wowryk sat on the nearest bed, yanked the interface helmet over her head and lay back on the bed, crossing her arms.
“Let’s do this.”
Once everybody was ready Fifebee, under Glorx’s supervision, activated the M-SID. Simultaneously, every crewman on each of the three hundred beds let out a long breath and went limp.
“Interface is stable,” reported one of Glorx’s assistants.
“M-SID core matrix is functioning normally,” called another.
“Oh, good,” Glorx sighed.
“You look relieved,” Fifebee commented.
“Well, there was a 35% chance that the interface would cause a feedback loop in the M-SID matrix, scrambling the neurons of everybody connected.”
“I see,” Fifebee frowned, “And you didn’t feel it necessary to warn the Captain?”
“No reason to make him worry.”
Once again T’Parief found himself standing in the featureless, white expanse of an inactive Matrian Dreamland.
He knew that somewhere, Dr. Wowryk would be marshaling her feminine powers, taking control of the M-SID and establishing herself as the controlling Mistress. Even as he thought this to himself the empty whiteness flooded with colour: a dark, cloudy sky, wet, muddy soil, a ring-shaped moat.
And, in the center of it all, the towering spires of Castle Wowryk.
“Here we go again,” T’Parief muttered as he was whisked away.
“This AGAIN?” Jall moaned, crossing his skinny arms, “can’t you do something more original.”
Wowryk flipped her hair back with a regal gesture.
“It reminds me,” she said, “of a playset I had as a child.”
“HEY!” Yanick squealed happily, “I’M ME!!!”
Together, Jeffery and T’Parief reached for their groins, giving simultaneous sighs of relief:
“Oh, thank GOD!”
“We’re not finished yet,” Stafford said, “We need to actually get back to our own bodies now…”
“I’m on it,” Wowryk said. She closed her eyes, focusing hard.
In the middle of a featureless wall, a doorway appeared. Unlike the other doors in the castle, a glowing, blood-red frame surrounded this one. A gentle, rhythmic breathing could be heard on the other side of the wall.
“Well, it’s a start,” Stafford muttered, ‘Let’s see where it goes…”
Stafford opened the door and stepped through.
Yanick’s body sat up in the lab, eyes blinking rapidly.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“Ensign Yanick?” Fifebee asked, rushing over, “Is it you?”
“F**k,” Stafford/Yanick muttered.
“I guess not,” Fifebee laughed.
“Please send me back,” Stafford begged.
After a few moments, the door re-opened and Stafford stepped out.
“Good new, and bad news,” he said.
Everybody waited expectantly.
“We can switch bodies.”
Cheers rose from the entire main chamber of the castle. Finally, they quieted.
“And the bed news?” Wowryk asked calmly.
“That wasn’t my body,” Stafford said glumly. He turned to Yanick, “I think you want this one.”
“Goody!” Yanick squealed, running for the door.
“One down, three hundred to go,” Jeffery muttered.
Wowryk closed her eyes and concentrated. Her breathing became labored; sweat breaking out across her features. She let out a sharp gasp, then a long, drawn out grunt, like a body-builder trying to lift that barbell one more inch.
Or somebody with severe constipation, whichever you prefer.
One by one, doors starting appearing throughout the castle…in the corridors, along the edges of the throne room, behind tapestries and even one or two in the floor. Everywhere one look, there was another door. Each had the same wooden finish and glowing frame. Only some frames were glowing with a gentle blue light while others were red. A few were blends of the colours, presumably representing crewmembers that didn’t biologically fit male/female. Each door also had a long sting of characters printed in white lettering.
Wowryk collapsed into the throne, gasping and straining.
“HURRY UP!” she grunted, “I can’t keep them open forever!”
“Find a door!” Stafford ordered, “Figure out whose body it is, come back here and find them!”
“What are the numbers for?” Jeffery wondered.
“Neural interface identifiers,” Wowryk gasped.
“Did anybody memorize those?” Jeffery wondered.
“F**k it!” Stafford snapped, “Find your body!”
Over the course of the next half hour Silverado crewmembers ran about in a scene of near chaos, opening doors, jumping through and more often then not returning in seconds. Whenever a body was ‘occupied’, the associated door would lock, allowing nobody else in until that person returned. Of course, as everybody started locating the correct bodies the number of people in the Dreamland dropped and the number of locked doors increased.
Stafford located the door to his own body in one of the castles huge kitchens, hovering over an open garbage pit in one corner. Ensign Buck had found the door and had told Stafford exactly where to find it. Standing in front of it, Stafford contemplated just how nice it would be to be to be back is his own tall, fit body. The blue frame around his door glowed warmly, and the sound of his body’s own breathing could be faintly heard.
Sighing, Stafford turned away from the door, returning to the throne room.
“Half the crew has returned to their own bodies,” Fifebee reported.
“Excellent,” Glorx replied, looking through the transparent aluminum window from the control room into the huge lab that had been fitted to hold the Silverado crew, “It’s only a matter of time now,”
“Dr. Wowryk is weakening,” Fifebee pointed out, “She may not last long enough.”
At that moment, the door to the lab hissed open and Daphne Nicholson stormed in, followed by her cameraman.
“AH-HAH!” she snapped triumphantly, stabbing her microphone accusingly at Fifebee, “I KNEW IT! Something’s up with you people!”
“Glorx to secure-“
The scientist’s call for help was cut off as Daphne twitched a finger, sending a stun blast from an emitter hidden in her microphone to the center of the scientist’s chest.
“HA! I win! You lose!” Daphne laughed. She collected herself, visibly working to return to her ‘calm reporter’ persona.
“Lieutenant Fifebee,” she said finally, a wide smile on her face, “could you explain what’s happening?
“No,” Fifebee said bluntly.
“Surely you can see that the people of the Federation have the right to know the truth!”
Fifebee was silent for a moment.
“So, now that you’ve had a moment to think about it,” Daphne said, impatient, “What is happening here?”
“I wasn’t thinking,” Fifebee said, annoyed, “I was calculating how many times the press has intruded into delicate situations that were none of their business for the sake of ‘the truth’. I can assure you that what’s happening here doesn’t impact the citizens of the Federation in any way and is non of their concern.”
“You don’t get to decide that!” huffed Nicholson.
“Actually,” Fifebee said, “Because this is a classified Starfleet matter, I not only have the right but the duty to forcibly eject you from the premises, destroy all recordings you have made and to warn you that any attempt to discuss what you’ve seen here will result in immediate incarceration. I warn you that I possess several personalities, many of which can be quite violent.”
“And can you tell me why this matter was classified, Lieutenant?” Daphne said sweetly.
“THAT’S IT!” Fifebee hollered, cranial ridges erupting from her forehead as she summoned the personality of Chief Scientist P’Tang of the Klingon Imperial Academy, “FILTHY PATAK!”
Giving a roar, Fifebee launched herself at the startled reporter. Reaching out to the cameraman, Fifebee yanked the holo-cam off his head, smashing it to the ground. She then focused her attention on Daphne. While the P’Tang personality wanted to snap her neck, the Fifebee personality was still marginally in control. Fifebee reached for the reporter’s long, reddish hair and pulled.
“BITCH!” screamed Nicholson, grabbing a handful of Fifebee’s black hair and pulling hard.
“Did I mention that holographic hair doesn’t care if it’s pulled?” Fifebee snarled, slamming Daphne’s head into the floor, “Now GET…” Fifebee slammed her head down to emphasize each word,”….OUT…YOU…NOSEY…BITCH!!!”
Daphne responded by jabbing her fingers into Fifebee’s eyes. The holographic eyeballs took no damage, but Fifebee’s visual systems were disrupted just long enough for the reporter to climb to her feet. She aimed her microphone straight at Fifebee and thumbed the tiny firing stud.
The beam passed through Fifebee, impacting the Matrian SID on the far wall. Sparks began to fly as red warning lights popped up on control panels all over the room.
The time for fighting had passed. Fifebee, T’Pang personality fully repressed, programmed her emitter to project her right next to Daphne. Before the reporter could utter a protest, Fifebee knocked her out with a single sharp blow.
“Why didn’t I do that the first time?” the hologram sighed as she tackled the beeping control panel.
Within Dreamland, the effects of Daphne ‘s phaser blast were felt immediately as the M-SID started to destabilize.
Wowryk, hunched on the throne, gave a sharp gasp of pain as the castle trembled. From the dark storm clouds above lightening began to dance, striking the castle, the ground and the trees, illuminating the scene in a series of brilliant flashes.
“The Dream Machine has been damaged!” Wowryk gasped, “The Dreamworld is collapsing! We need to get everybody out…NOW!”
“Jall found Wowryk’s door,” Stafford said, “It’s on the upper level, in the chapel!” He and Jeffery had stayed with Wowryk in case something went wrong. Which it did, of course.
“Did anybody find mine?” Jeffery asked.
“Weren’t you looking for it?” Stafford demanded.
“Ah couldn’t leave Noel!”
“Dammit!” Stafford snapped, “Noel, how many are left?”
“20,” she gasped, “they’ll be out soon. We need to go, now!”
Stafford eased one of her arms over his shoulder, Jeffery the other. Together, they started guiding Wowryk towards the stairs.
The castle trembled again, sending the trio staggering. Rain began pouring down in sheets, pounding against the castle roof, flooding in from open balconies and windows.
Thankful that Noel’s fantasy castle had the chapel close to the throne room, Stafford and Jeffery eased her down in front of a brilliantly pulsing red-framed door.
“OK,” Jeffery yelled, fighting to be heard over the constant thunder, “Get her out!”
“She can’t leave until we’re gone!” Stafford shouted, “She’s all that’s holding this place together!”
“Find your door!” Wowryk gasped to Jeffery, “I’ll know when you’re safe!”
“Ah’m not leaving here without you!” Jeffery insisted.
Stafford grabbed him by the arm and started hauling him down the corridor.
“Enough with the cheesy romance!”
The tried over a dozen doors, all of them locked, before Stafford realized they needed a better plan.
“It’s her sub-conscious!” he realized, “She put her door in the chapel, Yanick’s door closest to her throne, my door in the garbage pit!” He turned to Jeffery, “If Wowryk unconsciously controlled where the doors appeared, where would she put yours?”
“Um…” Jeffery fought to think, “The bedroom?”
After several minutes of fighting the shaking castle and increasingly slippery floors, Stafford and Jeffery made their way to the cavernous master bedroom.
It was empty.
Stafford wasn’t really surprised.
“Where else could it be?” Jeffery cried out, “Ah’m gonna be trapped in here forever!”
“Just think!” Stafford shouted, “If she looks at me as being garbage and Yanick as being close to her throne, where would she see you?”
The castle flickered, becoming insubstantial for a split second, just long enough to allow a flood of water to fall on the two men.
“She sees me as…as…” Jeffery jumped up.
“Get out of here!” he hollered at Stafford, “Ah know where it is!”
“You’re sure?” Stafford asked.
“Positive! Get out!”
“You don’t have to tell me twice!” Stafford bolted for the kitchen.
“That’s it,” a revived Glorx said sadly, “The M-SID is dead.”
“Was anybody connected at the time?”
“Don’t have a clue.”
Fifebee rushed into the laboratory, where Silverado crewmembers where still laughing, shaking hands and so forth in relief.
“I AM ME AGAIN!” T’Parief roared in triumph, driving one taloned fist into the wall, ripping a large hole in the paneling. With a toothy grin, the slammed his fists into the exposed circuitry again, and again, then began tearing at components.
“Oh yeah!” he sighed happily, turning back to the rest of the crew, “That felt good!”
Not noticing an errant cable that had wrapped itself around his foot, T’Parief took one step forward before crashing to the floor, amid a storm of laughter.
“Is everybody all right?” Fifebee demanded.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, standing next to the table where Wowryk was sitting up. Jeffery was climbing off the table next to her, “We’re all here.”
“This is U.S.S. Silverado, requesting permission to depart,”
“You’re clear,” Morales replied, “The docking clamps are actually disengaged this time.”
“Thanks SOO much,” replied Stafford from the Ops deck’s main view screen.
“Captain,” Beck said, “I’d like to say it was nice to see you again. Although it really wasn’t. Anyway, I hope the two of you will be very happy together. Waystation out.”
“Well,” Porter said, “That wasn’t so bad, was it? No bombs, no vented wastes, no damaged docking arms-“
“We had a mass riot on the Mall,” Lieutenant Commander Russel pointed out, “And I didn’t even get to boink the sexy red-head!”
Beck raised an eyebrow.
“I meant Dr. Wowryk,” Russel muttered.
“Happy together?” Stafford wondered as Beck disappeared from the screen, “What the hell did she mean by that?”
“Probably nothing,” Yanick said quickly, “So, we’re off to Deneria?
“Yup,” Stafford nodded, “Oh, and the ‘It’s My Body And I’ll Do What I Want To’ bash starts at 21:00 hours.”
“Zis is our first session, jas?” Eva Yvnnokoff asked.
“Aye,” Jeffery said, lying on the couch, “This is totally off the air, right?”
“Jas. Zis is a private counseling session.”
“Good, good,” Jeffery licked his lips, “Sooo…what do I do?”
“Vell, usually patients start by telling me vhat is bozering zem.” Eva had her padd out and ready to go.
“Well, it’s just…damn,” Jeffery swore, “Ah didin’t know who to talk to about this. Did you hear about how we all got back to our bodies?”
“Jas,” Eva nodded, “Magic doors and weird machines.”
“Right. Well, Noel ‘made’ the doors, right? One for each of us. And she put her door in the chapel, cuz she’s Catholic, Chris’s door in the garbage, cuz she thinks he’s trash, and Yanick’s door in her throne room, y’know, cuz Yanick is her best friend and is always there for her.”
“I am detecting pattern,” Eva said thoughtfully, then chuckled, “So vere did she put your door? In dungeon?” Her laughter faded as she saw the look on Jeffery’s face.
“Ohhh….” she sighed, “Eva to Gibson…”
“Cancel ze rest of my appointments for today. Zis is going to take a while.”