Author: Brendan Chris
“You know,” Ensign Simmons said, his voice slightly tinny as it came over the helmet radio, “I’m beginning to think that maybe the whole thing was a bad idea,”
“Really?” Lieutenant Stern replied dryly. The bulk of his attention was devoted to operating the gamma-welder he was using to attach a hull plate to the appropriate spot on Silverado’s engineering hull.
“Yeah,” Simmons went on, having just finished replacing a twisted structural member, “Next time we should use the shuttles in the war game too. Would have given us the advantage in numbers,”
“NEXT TIME??” Stern snapped, tempted to see how much Simmons would enjoy being welded to the hull when Silverado left the starbase, “NEXT TIME!?!!”
“You don’t have to get all upset about it,” Simmons grunted.
“There won’t be a ‘next time,’ Stern said firmly, “I think we just need to learn from this experience and grow!”
“As in ‘learn NOT to trick our senior officers out of their starships’?” Stafford’s voice came over the comm channel.
“Something like that,” Mardsen broke in. He was painting the hull plates Stern had already welded into place.
“Well, I hope you learn your lesson quickly,” Stafford went on, “Because I want to leave dock soon!”
“You could get the starbase crew to-“ Simmons started.
“Stern?” Stafford interrupted.
“I’ll be advising T’Parief to use Simmons in a very unpleasant security drill if he says another word,”
“That is SO not fair!” Simmons objected.
There was a click as the channel cut out.
“Mr. T’Parief, were you listening?” Stafford asked.
“I was,” the security chief replied, “Would you prefer we use him for martial arts training, forensic investigation training, or body cavity search training?”
“You pick,” Stafford waved a hand, settling into his chair.
There wasn’t really much of a reason for the senior staff to be on the bridge, what with the ship being parked in the starbase and whatnot. But they should have departed a day ago. Indeed, they would have departed, if a certain security team hadn’t ‘borrowed’ the ship to settle a squabble with the crew of the USS Stallion by playing a war game. A war game that resulted in an unfortunate collision between the two ships.
“There goes the Stallion,” Jall commented. They watched on the screen as the smaller ship, having sustained slightly less damage (and having been repaired by a far more efficient and competent starbase engineering team), glided through the space-doors and disappeared from view.
“Off to shuttle supplies, no doubt,” Stafford mused.
“Well yeah,” Yanick said, “In a little ship like that? I’d want to stay inside the Federation where it’s nice and safe,”
“I wouldn’t mind keeping this ship where it’s nice and safe!” stated Jall, leaning back in his seat.
“I’m sure we’ll encounter many dangerous,” Noonan looked at his padd, “gas clouds on our survey mission,”
“Yippee,” Yanick grinned.
“Why are you excited?” Fifebee piped in, curious, “We haven’t even started the survey and the rest of the crew is already bored. I’m curious as to why you aren’t”
“Because gas clouds are fun to fly through!” Yanick said gleefully, “You like, totally fly the ship through really fast, right? Then you turn around and see the big mess left of the cloud when you come out the other side! It’s like…it’s like…”
“Crash-test dummies in space?” Jall suggested.
“Sticking your hand in a waterfall?” Stafford opined.
“Flying a starship through gaseous clouds?” Fifebee offered.
“Yeah! That’s it!” Yanick said.
Everybody exchanged glances.
“Which one?” T’Parief pried gently.
“The third one,” Yanick said, “About the gas clouds,”
“So flying a starship through a gas cloud is like,” Fifebee frowned, “flying a starship through a gas cloud?”
“Uh-huh!” Yanick nodded eagerly.
“Why nobody has actually done a scientific study on blonds yet is beyond me,” Fifebee muttered, turning back to her console.
“Have they finished repairs yet?”
“Yes, sir. The last member of the repair team is just…uh, stand by. Sir, the last member of the repair team is standing by the airlock door, thrusting his pelvis towards the bay windows,”
“From that ship, I’m really not surprised. At least we don’t have to recall them to give them the news,”
“Repairs complete, sir,” Acting Chief Engineer Sage reported from the engine room.
“Excellent,” Stafford said, rising to his feet and glancing around the bridge. Fifebee and T’Parief were focused on their stations, Jall was arguing quietly over the comm with somebody below decks and Yanick was tucking her latest magazine padd, ‘Home and Starship’ into a handy storage pouch on her chair.
“Clear all moorings,” Stafford ordered, “Secure airlocks, confirm we are floating free,”
“I’m wearing boxers today,” Jall cut in, having muted his other conversation, “Does that count?”
“Arrgghhh,” Stafford rolled his eyes, “Yanick, take us out - carefully! If we knock the space doors off their track again, Tunny’s gonna skin us alive!”
“It’s not MY fault they were opening too slow,” Yanick protested.
“In Yanick’s defense,” Noonan said, seated calmly in his seat, “The navigational deflector fields should not have been activated prior to exiting the starbase,”
“Whatever,” Stafford sat back down, “Ahead slow, thrusters at-“
“We’re being hailed by Admiral Tunney,” T’Parief reported, “He’s ordering us to stay put,”
“And ordering you to report to his office, immediately,” T’Parief finished.
“Oh that just SUCKS!” Stafford moaned, “We’re practically out the door and now we have to turn around and come back in?”
“It’s like we’re a puppy!” Yanick said, “In again, out again, in again-“
“Stupid Tunny,” Stafford griped, “Has to wait until the last minute, can’t do it during the week we were sitting here, has to be-“
“This IS an open channel, Captain!” Tunney’s voice came from the speakers.
“A perfectly wonderful man to work for,” Stafford finished without missing a beat, “Jall, buddy, do me a favor; secure the moorings and prepare airlocks for disembarkment,”
“OK, sweety-pie,” Jall replied.
“Don’t push it,” Stafford said.
“That’s not what-‘
“If you say ‘That’s not what he said’, I’m going to punch you!”
Duffel bag over one shoulder, Simon Jeffery moved into the administration section of Starbase 45.
Starbase 45 had a crew and commanding officer of its own, Jeffery knew. They sat up in Station Operations, drinking raktagino and eating tiramisu all day, secure in their huge space station and calm, tamed region of Federation territory. Starbase life has to be the cushiest, Jeffery mused.
Admiral Tunney, while being the flag officer for the sector, left most of the starbase operations to the starbase crew. He was more used to living on a planet and running things from a distance, but he’d recently moved from Earth to Starbase 45 to get ‘more involved’. He had his own issues to deal with; being the man giving the orders to several starships including but not limited to those that made up the Operation Salvage fleet was no easy task. Tunney was also the man who had initiated the transfer program that had seen Jeffery and Sylvia visit different starships to correct their ‘refurbishment issues’.
Jeffery arrived at Tunney’s office and prepared himself to encounter The Secretary. He didn’t know her name, rank or even her species. He just knew that she was mean.
“Look, I have a meeting with Tunney!” cried a terrified voice from within, “Believe me, he WANTS to see me!”
“Meeting rebooked,” the 1.5 meter tall, blue skinned, horned and skull-plated alien grunted, “Try tomorrow,”
“TOMORRRRRROOOOWWWWWW!!!!” the creature bellowed, the force of her shout blasting the unfortunate intruder out the door and into the corridor, barely missing Jeffery.
“Mr…Jeffery….” The Secretary panted, though whether that was because of her bellowing or because of her species Jeffery wasn’t sure, “I was…about…to call…you. Go…right…in…”
“Uh, thanks,” Jeffery gulped. Well, that made that easier.
Wait, why did Tunney want to see him? Was he in trouble?
“Simon!” Stafford exclaimed as Jeffery walked in, “What are you doing here??”
“Ah wanted to talk to-“
“Yes, I know,” Tunney said, “Sit down, Mr. Jeffery. This will just take a moment,”
“This is a recording we received several hours ago from a long-range probe scouting Sector 478-B,” Tunney said without pre-amble. His office was comfortably well-appointed; desk, chair, Reality-Definition viewscreen. The paneling was the standard Starfleet Tan Office, with a window looking out into the cavernous hanger bay. Jeffery was surprised to see several starship models in a display case, including models of the Silverado, the Stallion, the Elfman and several others.
A video recording, grainy and of poor quality, began to play. The scene was obviously being shot in space, not far from a planet. Stafford and Jeffery watched as the planet grew closer. It seemed a standard Class-M, but something about the surface didn’t quite seem right. It almost seemed to ripple, like oil on water.
A starship burst into view, causing Stafford to jump a little in his seat. It was an oddly-shaped vessel, with a bulbous forward hull, dog-cone-like protrusion emerging from the mid hull and two compact nacelles behind it. Tunney paused the image.
It was the ship that Sylvia’s attempted kidnappers had escaped in.
“Ye found them,” Jeffery murmured.
“Them?” Stafford asked, “Who? And is that scale accurate?” he pointed at a row of numbers along the side of the image, “That ship’s pretty small-“
“But from the number of windows it looks like it should be big,” Jeffery fnished, “Maybe they just like small windows?”
Indeed, there were easily ten rows of windows visible, with indication that there was close to fifteen decks, but according to the scale and size readings the ship was maybe five or six decks high. Jeffery briefed Stafford on the details of his earlier encounter with the ship while on board the Stallion.
“Watch this,” Tunney said after Jeffery had finished, un-pausing the playback.
The screen turned to static.
“Well,” Tunney looked a little embarrassed, cleared his throat and grinned weakly, “I rather thought the probe being destroyed would be a bit more dramatic than that. But you get the picture,”
“Sooo,” Stafford leaned forward, “You stopped us from leaving because you’re going to send us on a mission to catch Sylvia’s would-be kidnappers?”
“Actually, no,” Tunney said, “If we chased every being that tried to kidnap an AI like Sylvia, Data, Fifebee, Larkin or B-4, why, we’d have the entire fleet caught up in police work,” he chuckled softly to himself.
“Then what’s the deal?”
“We’re sending you to investigate that,” Tunney fiddled with his controls again, bringing the video of the planet back.
“A planet?” Stafford whined, “But we’ve been to plenty of those!”
“Not like this one,” Tunney said, “The reading from the probe, you know, before it was blasted to pieces, indicated some very strange temporal anomalies,”
“Time travel? No, no and no!” Stafford shook his head, “Look, we’re way under our time travel quota for a ship on its third year out and we’d really like to keep it that way!”
“Then you’ll have to be careful,” Tunney shrugged, “But you’re going to go explore that planet whether you like it or not,”
“Oh, and evacuate all non-essential personnel. If you do end up thrown back in time we may as well have as few MIAs, uh, ‘temporal refugees’ as possible,”
“I’m not sending any other ship,” Tunney said firmly, “The Stallion or the Elfman couldn’t stand up to that ship, the Vendome is too far away and the Montreal just blew out her plasma conduits again. You people, and this just goes to show the pathetic quality of the ships under my flag, have the best chance of figuring out that planet and dealing with those kidnappers if they show up,”
Stafford was quiet.
“All non-essential personnel?” he asked.
“All,” Tunney said.
“How far away is this planet?”
“Even our bar staff?” Stafford asked, eyes wide.
“It’s going to be a LOONG trip,” Stafford sighed, picking up the mission briefing padd, “But you can count on us,”
“Of course I can,” Tunney said, fingers of his left hand carefully crossed behind his back. He reached his other hand foreword to shake Stafford’s as the captain departed.
After a moment, Tunney blinked and turned to Jeffery.
“Why are you still here?”
“Well, uh, Admiral,” Jeffery swallowed, “Ah’ve been waiting for me travel orders to head out to the USS Papineau. Y’know, for the next part of me mission,”
“Mission?” Tunney frowned, “Oh, you mean the starship repair effort Sylvia was working on,”
“Aye,” Jeffery was confused, “Sylvia?”
“Oh, what an embarrassing misunderstanding,” Tunney sighed, “How could I have prevented this? Perhaps I should have been clearer on the orientation memo-“
“Sir?” Jeffery prodded.
“That mission was offered to Sylvia,” Tunney explained, looking as though he’d sat on something sharp, “You were attached to her as her assistant,”
“I’m afraid, Mr. Jeffery, now that Sylvia’s returned to Silverado there’s really no mission anymore and that your services are no longer required,”
“But…but…what do I do now?”
“Well,” Tunney interlaced his fingers, “First, I’d hope that you didn’t burn any bridges with your old crew, seeing as how your permanent posting is still currently listed as Chief Engineer, USS Silverado. Second, I’d suggest you hurry. Stafford will no doubt be in a hurry to leave dock,”
“I really don’t want to leave dock,” Stafford said.
He was pacing in a small lounge on Deck 13, in the interconnecting dorsal or ‘neck’ between the saucer and engineering hulls. Silverado’s ‘neck’ contained the impulse engines, forward torpedo launchers and the heavily shielded deuterium storage tanks.
Along with some minor crew amenities, like the lounge.
Looking out the row of narrow windows lining the outer wall, Stafford and Noonan could see hundreds of officers, crewmembers, family members and support staff as they made their way down the gantries leading from Silverado’s airlocks into the starbase. He could see Samantha and Mary, two of the waitresses from Unbalanced Equations, arguing with one of the starbase personnel that had been pressed into service finding accommodations for Silverado’s crew. He could see Rengs Meris bidding a tearful goodbye to her husband, their infant son seated in a stroller next to her.
“Sad, isn’t it?” Sylvia said.
“I disagree,” Noonan replied, watching several of Fifebee’s science staff as they carried sample containers and data modules down the gangway, “Every being down there is one less potential victim should something befall this ship,”
“Why is our science staff leaving, anyway?” Stafford asked, “How are we supposed to study a strange planet without a science staff?”
“All departments are being scaled back to essential officers only,” Noonan said, “Lieutenant Fifebee and Ensign Burke will be heading up the department in the meantime, along with three supporting crewmen,”
“I guess we don’t really need astrophysics or stellar cartography for a planetary survey,” Stafford agreed, “Hey!” he pointed down to where Nurse Veeneman was carting a large potted plant into the starbase, “That belongs in the arboretum! That’s Starfleet property!”
“Um, I asked her to take care of it,” Sylvia piped in, “We had a really hard time getting it to grow, and I’d really hate for it to be tossed through time or something,”
“Right,” Stafford sighed. He paused for a moment, watching the streams of people leaving, “I agree with Sylvia. It’s sad,”
“Admiral Tunney feels the risk to them is too great,” Noonan reminded him, “Evacuating non-essential staff is hardly a novel concept,”
“Maybe so,” Stafford said, “But he’s evacuating the ship based on the possibility that this temporal thingy MIGHT have something to do with time travel and we MIGHT end up tossed in time and MIGHT not be able to get back!”
“Chris has a point,” Sylvia said, “Don’t forget that this mission MIGHT take a long time, and without the rest of the engineering staff Sage MIGHT not be able to keep me up and running and we MIGHT end up with problems down the road,”
They watched the exodus in silence for several minutes.
“It’s just not the same with everybody gone,” Stafford sighed, “At least you’re back, Sylvia. But without all of them,” he gestured out the window, “it’s like a bar after last call. It’s still there, and there are still a few people, but you just know it’s time to leave,”
“Now you’re comparing me to a sleazy watering hole with beer on the floor and drunken idiots everywhere,” Sylvia’s voice was somewhat less than friendly, “I’m not really feeling the love here, Chris!”
“You’re like the bartender, Sylvia,” Stafford went on, not really paying attention, “The place is there without you, but it’s just not worth going to. But if you are there, you need the crowds to keep the place going. You need them, they need you. But in the end you’re just one more person to come and go,”
“Awww,” Sylvia sighed, “That’s sort of sweet. I think. In a very messed up way,”
“Now this is interesting,” Noonan cut in, “Somebody is trying to get on board,” he pointed.
Indeed, halfway up the gangway leading to the saucer airlock, somebody was going against the flow. Suitcases and carry-bags were pushed aside as men, women and children were forced to make room for somebody very determined to push his or her way through,”
“Somebody must have left the water running in his quarters,” Stafford dismissed the spectacle, “Come on, let’s go to the bridge. At least up there we’ll have some familiar faces that AREN’T rushing in the opposite direction!”
“Now, please remember,” Wowryk said, holding Luke, tightly, afraid to let him go, “He really doesn’t like baby food, if you try to give him anything mushy he’s likely to throw it at you-“
<Oh yes, and you’d be ever so grateful if somebody offered YOU mushed peas!> Luke, AKA Lord Stalart of Arcania thought derisively.
“He likes to go exploring, so if you find him missing your best bet is to check the Jefferies tubes and maintenance crawlways,” Wowryk went on.
“I’m sure we’ll be OK,” replied Nurse Veeneman. With the reduced crew only part of Wowryk’s medical staff was staying on board. That being Wowryk, Kerry and a couple of med-techs.
“I hope so,” Wowryk sighed, reluctantly handing Luke over to the other woman.
<Finally! Free! My time has come!> Stalart cackled to himself, clapping his hands.
The situation on the bridge wasn’t a lot better.
“Sylvia, don’t you DARE give it to him! Recycle it now!”
“I’m sorry, Trish, but you didn’t order. I can’t get rid of it for you just like that!”
“Yes, please don’t,” T’Parief said, “I would really like to eat it,”
“You have a medical condition!” Yanick snapped, placing her relatively frail body between T’Parief and the replicator, upon which sat a very large, very tasty looking chocolate bar,”
Jall, watching the fun, was chuckling. He’d replicated the chocolate partly as a way to bug T’Parief and partly because he himself was having something of a chocolate craving at the moment.
“Jall, this isn’t funny!” Yanick snapped, “You tell Sylvia to put that in the matter reclaimater right now!”
“But I want to eat it!” Jall protested.
“Jall, you’re being an annoying jerk!”
“The very essence of Jall, one might say,” Fifebee added from where she was observing the exchange.
“That’s not the essence,” Jall said, “Just a side effect,”
A low growl started in T’Parief’s throat.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Yanick snapped, putting one hand over his mouth and the other on his nose and pushing him firmly back, “Chocolate makes you loopy! And if you think I’m spending the night alone in our quarters while you hallucinate about eating fluffy bunnies then YOU HAVE ANOTHER THINK COMING!”
“She’s very brave,” Fifebee observed.
“I see it’s begun,” Noonan remarked as he and Stafford stepped out of the turbolift.
“Figures T’Parief would end up dating a farm girl,” Stafford quipped, “She knows how to handle animals of all sizes!”
T’Parief turned slowly away from the replicator, fixing his red eyes on Stafford.
“Bad choice of words,” Stafford said quickly, “I’ll just go to my ready room now!”
He slipped past the security chief and through the ready room doors.
“That was rude,” Yanick said, taking the opportunity given by T’Parief’s distraction to toss the chocolate bar at Jall,” But he’s right,” she slipped a hand up to T’Parief’s face and pulled it around to face her, “I do know how to handle…wild animals…”
Everybody else looked faintly sick.
“Has anybody figure out yet how they-“ Fifebee whispered to Noonan.
“Best not to think about it,” Noonan said quickly.
The science console beeped. Fifebee moved back and took her seat, tapping at the panels.
“That’s strange,” she said.
“What is it?” Noonan asked.
“Energy surge,” Fifebee said, “Very minor, Deck 26,”
“They’re showing all’s well,” Fifebee reported.
“I’ll send T’Parief to check it out,” he decided, “I doubt he’ll find anything, but at least it’ll distract him from his cocoa cravings.”
“OK folks!” Lieutenant Sage said happily, “Frit, I want you to keep an eye on the warp core. Word has it we’re in for some sustained high-speed cruising. Frat, keep an eye on the nacelles and plasma conduits. Frak, you’re on glitch patrol-“
“OK folks,” Simon Jeffery snapped, storming into engineering, “Party’s over. Sage, go to bed. Yer on Delta shift again. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us. Ah want Frit on glitch patrol with Sylvia, Frak on nacelles and-“
“What do you think you’re doing here?” Sage demanded.
“Taking back me job as Chief Engineer,” Jeffery shot back, “Do ye have a problem with that?”
“Well, sort of,” Sage gulped, “I kinda liked it-“
“Well Ah’ve got a problem with it too!” Jeffery went on, “But this is the way it is, so get lost!”
“Simon!” Sylvia said pleasantly, her audio sensors having picked up the increased shouting, “You’ve decided to come back! Oh, that’s so delightful! It’ll be nice to keep working with you-“
“Computer, override audio in Main Engineering, authorization Jeffery Gamma three two seven,” Jeffery snapped.
Everybody, from the midget engineers to Sage to the quasi-intelligent door AIs looked at Jeffery in shock. Nobody, NOBODY had EVER used a command override against Sylvia. The command override protocols were built to bypass the computer’s personality subroutines, as they were integral to the security of the ship. But to cut Sylvia off in such a fashion!
The Master Systems display opposite the warp core flickered, the detailed schematic of the ship vanishing to be replaced with five words written in block letters.
THAT WAS UNCALLED FOR, SIMON!
Then it went blank.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58203.6:
“We’re on course for the weird planet we need to investigate. Since ‘weird planet we need to investigate’ takes too long to say in standard conversation, we’ve designated it DeLorea II. Y’know, after that car in that time travel movie. We thought about Eloius or something, from that other time travel book, but Noonan pointed out that the Eloi were being eaten, or something silly like that. Right. I’m sure he’s a real expert on eating people!”
“Anyway, we’ve barely been in warp drive for an hour and somebody’s already managed to piss Sylvia off,”
“How DARE he?” Sylvia said for at least the twelfth time, “How DARE he treat me like that!”
“Look, I know Sage can be a bit abrasive,” Stafford said, seated comfortably in his ready room, “But he’s just trying to be part of the gang. You can’t blame him for his approach; God knows he sees us insulting each other enough,”
“I meant Jeffery!” Sylvia said.
“Jeffery?” Stafford blinked, “What about Jeffery?”
“What, your Chief Engineer comes back on board and you didn’t know about it?”
Sylvia’s face appeared on his display, looking more than a little cross.
“Tunney decided to cancel the repair tour after I came back,” Sylvia explained.
“That doesn’t explain why he’d be so angry at you,” Stafford squinted, “Sylvia, do you look different?”
“Your wrinkles are gone,” Stafford said, “And your hair…wasn’t it a little gray before?”
“Well,” Sylvia looked a little embarrassed, “Somebody suggested to me that maybe I should try acting my age and not my nacelle size,”
“Uh-huh,” Stafford sat back, looking thoughtful, “And this wouldn’t have anything to do with that young man you were talking about before? What was his name…Miracle Grow?”
“Shurgroe,” Sylvia said, “And moving back to Jeffery. See, there was a little clause in the mission brief about his role that I didn’t really think he needed to know about…”
As she explained, Stafford found there was really little for him to do aside from resting his head on one hand and wondering just what he’d done to deserve the current situation.
“Frat, what do ye think yer doing?” Jeffery demanded.
“Just aligning the torque sensors,” Frat said, hands running over the main console. He was standing on one of the many step-stools kept in engineering to allow the short Nicondii engineers to reach the control panels.
“Well fine then. Keep it up,”
“It’s nice to have you-“
“Yeah, thanks,” Jeffery waved him away, “Ah’ll be in me office,”
He noticed, with some amount of annoyance, that Sage had taken down his pictures. He’d had several images of his grandparent’s resort on Alpha Centauri. Looking around he found an open box in one corner. His pictures obviously weren’t there, but the smaller holo-images from his desk were there along with several padds detailing his repair efforts on the ship, the master glitch listing he’d been keeping for Tunney and the Bible Dr. Wowryk had talked him into buying.
He stood there, looking around the small room, the book in one hand.
“Computer, release audio lockout in Main Engineering,” a voice said from behind him, “Authorization Stafford Alpha three one seven,”
“SIMON JEFFERY YOU LITTLE TROLL!”
“Sylvia!” Stafford said tiredly, “You promised!”
“I’ll be polite in a minute,” Sylvia said, “Simon, that was completely rude and uncalled for and I demand an apology right this instant!”
“Oh yeah!” Jeffery shot back, “And what about never botherin’ to tell me Ah was just yer helper? Ye should have told me, Sylvia! Ah want an apology for that!”
“Maybe so,” Sylvia admitted, “But I had been hoping to prevent just this kind of scene,”
“Plus that was kinda Tunney’s idea,” Stafford added helpfully.
“He put me as her assistant!” Jeffery seethed, “That’s like, like, sayin’ yer First Officer under the auto-pilot!”
“Now that was just rude!” Sylvia snapped.
“Sylvia, Simon,” Stafford help up his hands, trying to calm them down.
“It may be rude, but it’s the truth!”
“Jeffery, I demand an apology!”
“Ah’m not givin’ it!”
“Well,” Sylvia ‘s voice took on the tone of finality, “When you change your mind, you know where to find me,”
The channel closed.
Stafford was quiet for a moment.
“It’s good to have you back,” he said finally, trying to smile.
Jeffery just glared.
Lieutenant Fifebee finished securing her holo-relay in its storage locker in Impulse Engineering. Located close to the center of the ship, it had been the logical place to keep her relay. Even after Jeffery got around to installing holo-relays in key areas like the bridge and science labs she’d still kept the relay there, powered on and ready to go if needed.
Well, now that that task was complete, what was she going to do with her evening? She’d finished studying the data transmitted by the probe, learning absolutely nothing in the end. Her relay had been secured and the science facilities prepared for the analysis they would have to do in another two weeks when they arrived at DeLorea II.
This would be an ideal time for her to practice her socialization, she decided. She initiated a personality database purge, a step she’d begun doing on a regular basis to ensure that the hundreds of personalities making up her scientific knowledge database weren’t influencing her own personality. It was almost impossible to do while she was on-duty, as she was always using somebody’s past experiences to aid her, which inexorably led to that personality influencing her behavior.
But being social shouldn’t require any scientific effort.
She debated speaking to Sylvia in a human fashion, to ask her where the crew was, but chose instead to simply communicate directly. Her own program sent a query to Sylvia over the ODN network, requesting the location of the crew. Sylvia’s reply was complete within nine nano-seconds and included the location of every remaining crewmember, a brief, privacy-respective summary of their current activities and several suggestions as to how Fifebee could spend her evening.
Choosing to start with the obvious, Fifebee transferred herself to Unbalanced Equations.
“Wow, it’s been a while since we’ve done this,” Yanick said, letting herself settle into the comfortable armchair she was seated in, “I was getting a little worried the science team was going to start taking our usual spot here, but no sign of them,”
“That is because we left them at the starbase, gorgeous being,” T’Parief reminded her.
“Gorgeous being???” Jall asked, using his toothpick-impaled olive to stir his martini.
“He’s still getting the hang of Terran romance,” Yanick explained.
“Have you ever considered,” Dr. Wowryk said, returning from the bar with a big fruity drink in hand, “That perhaps you should be getting the hang of Gorn romance?”
“Or Klingon!” Jall added, “I hear Klingon women can be very romantic if you approach them the right way,”
“Like you care,” Yanick giggled. Wowryk swallowed uncomfortably as she took a seat far from Jall.
“Why are you being so multi-cultural all of a sudden?” Yanick asked, “Shouldn’t you be telling T’Parief to court me in proper Catholic fashion?”
“Maybe,” Wowyrk shrugged, “But would it do any good?”
“No,” T’Parief admitted.
“There you go,” Wowryk sighed, “I tried. God knows I tried. But a dozen missionaries couldn’t influence this crew,”
“Y’know,” Jall said, sipping his drink, “I think you and I have something in common, Doc,”
“And what,” Wowryk looked down her nose, “would that be?”
“Well, we each have our own beliefs and,” he blushed a bit, “preferences. They work for us, we enjoy them, and nobody’s gonna change us. But I think if I tried convincing people to convert to my way of thinking I’d get about the same reaction you do,”
“He’s got a point there,” T’Parief said, “As much as I hate to admit it,”
“You dare to compare the worship of the Divine Lord to your filthy, fleshy unions?” Wowryk said. Her tone was hard, but Yanick could tell her heart just wasn’t in it.
“Well, no,” Jall said, “But you have to admit our situations are a little similar,”
“Maybe so,” Wowryk rolled her eyes, “But if I can work to ‘Love the sinner and hate the sin,’ then maybe you can try this old saying: ‘What happens in the bedroom is your own damn business and the rest of us don’t want to hear about it’!”
“I think you’re paraphrasing that a little,” Fifebee said as she materialized, causing Wowryk to jump, sloshing some of her drink on the simulated hardwood floor.
“She’s got a good point though,” Yanick said, “Y’know, Noel, I think that run-in with the other universe did you a lot of good. I’ve never seen you so open minded!”
“That,” Jall said, “Or she just doesn’t care what the rest of us do anymore,”
“Why is this place so quiet?” Fifebee asked. As she looked around she only saw two other people in the room; a pair of ensigns from Operations who were making out in one dark corner. The lights were dim, nobody was behind the bar and no music was playing. The evening crew was up on the bridge, keeping an eye on the ship as it flew in a straight line (a surprisingly difficult task for some people).
“Kinda quiet with only a hundred or so people on board, huh?” Yanick sighed, “Too quiet!”
“Indeed,” Fifebee said. She vanished in a shower of holographic sparks.
“I hate it when she does that!” Wowryk said, crossing her arms.
“Love the sinner, dear,” Yanick said, patter her knee.
“So you used to run this program with Mr. Jeffery?” Noonan asked.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, “Up until he left for a while,”
“He’s back now. Why did you not invite him?”
“Well, he’s sort of in a bad mood right now,” Stafford shrugged, “Besides, you need to get out more,”
“By the way, did that security check on Deck 26 turn up anything?”
Noonan shook his head.
“Nothing,” he replied.
“Excellent,” Stafford finished adjusting the strap on his helmet, “Enough shop talk. Ready?”
“Good!” Stafford slammed his visor down, jumped onto his snowmobile and hit the throttle. The machine roared, throwing back a stream of snow as the track under it spun. Finally it gripped and the machine shot forward, the twin skis at the front bobbing madly as they ran over the uneven, snow-covered terrain.
Not to be outdone, Noonan pulled the throttle on his snow-machine with one hand, his other pushing the machine forward. As it shot forward he swung himself onto the seat, gripping it between his knees, keeping his head low as his snowmobile raced ahead of Stafford’s.
The two of them shot across an empty field, leaving twin trails behind them. Stafford broke to one side, spotting a series of snow banks that had built up against a line of trees along one edge of the wide, empty plain. Noonan followed.
Now, Noonan could admit to having done a hell of a lot in his 200+ years of life, but he had to admit that snowmobiling just wasn’t one of them. As such, he was so busy trying to figure out why exactly Stafford was slowing down when he hit the first snow bank head on, moving at close to eighty kilometers an hour.
He plowed straight through it, snow blowing over the top of his windshield to hit him square in the face. He went through the second one as well, sending another cloud of snow into the air. By the time he hit the third, he’d slowed down enough that the machine attempted to go over rather than through, the result being that the snowmobile shot up in the air, jumping the next two banks before slamming into the last one, burying itself halfway in. Noonan, so surprised by the whole thing, was sent spinning through the air and into yet another snowbank where he landed in a most undignified manner, legs sticking out in the air while his upper body sank nearly to the ground.
Stafford slammed on the brakes, however the snowmobile has to be the single most useless vehicle in the known galaxy when it came to breaking. He couldn’t throw the engine in reverse, as one might attempt with a water or hover craft. Even if he could, the traction just wasn’t there when it came to snow. All the brakes did was stop the track from spinning, like wheel brakes. But the machine just skidded across the snow, barely losing speed.
Stafford’s machine slammed into the read of Noonan’s, sending the captain pin wheeling through the air to land hard on his first officer.
The two of them lay in the snow, Stafford gasping in pain for several seconds.
“Ow,” he finally said, flinching as a clump of cold snow slid down the back of his neck.
“You and Mr. Jeffery did this all the time, hmm?” Noonan’s voice was muffled by the snow.
“Not quite like this,” Stafford admitted, trying to get off of Noonan without doing further damage.
“Would you two like to be alone?”
Staggering to his feet, Stafford saw Fifebee standing near the wreckage of their snowmobiles, looking very strange standing in the middle of a snow bank in only her Starfleet uniform. Noonan extracted himself from the bank, clumps of snow falling off him as he pulled off his helmet.
“I’m really,” Stafford gasped, “in far too much pain to be annoyed right now,”
“Then I suggest you come to the lounge, where we have a variety of liquid painkillers,” Fifebee smiled, then vanished.
Gasping for breath, Stafford leaned on part of his Ski-Doo.
“Did she just invite us to hang out?” he asked Noonan.
“I believe so,”
“We need strippers,” Yanick said finally, “that’s what we need,”
“I beg to differ,” Wowryk said, sipping her drink.
“C’mon Noel,” Yanick giggled, “Strippers are perfect for you! You get to watch them get naked and act all manly, but you don’t have to touch them or have anything to do with them!”
“Interesting thought,” she said.
“You mean men,” Fifebee asked, having reappeared after a short time, “Dancing? Naked?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Jall said brightly.
“Then get dancing,” Yanick giggled.
Jall gave her an annoyed look.
“I meant I wouldn’t mind strippers,” he said, “not stripping!”
“Do I get any say in this?” T’Parief asked, annoyed.
“Later, big guy,” Yanick winked suggestively.
“Barkeep!” Stafford shouted, trailing melting snow behind him as he came through the doors to the lounge, “Something really, really hot and laden with booze!”
“Our bartender’s about a light-year thataway,” Jall called, pointing out the windows looking out between the twin warp nacelles.
“Oh yeah,” Stafford grimaced, “Guess it’s self-serve today,” he started rummaging around beneath the bar, “Where the hell does Steven keep the eggnog?”
He opened a small refrigerator, finding nothing but pickled targ’s feet and something that he hoped was supposed to be cheese.
“Sylvia,” Noonan said, “One hot toddy please,”
One of the replicators behind the bar hummed to life, producing the desired beverage.
“I wanted to do it Steven’s way,” Stafford sighed, “Y’know, by hand?”
“This way is safer,” Noonan advised him, “trust me,”
Locating a stasis unit with his own ‘vintage’, specific to his needs, Noonan poured the thick, red liquid into one of his special wine glasses. The decorative gold filigree on the rim was actually the emitter array for a tiny psionic energy generator, infusing the liquid with the ‘life-force’ energy Noonan required.
He followed Stafford to the cluster of arm chairs at the aft of the lounge. The two of them settled in.
“This is nice,” Noonan said, “It’s been a while since we did this,”
“It has,” Stafford winced, rubbing the leg he’d bruised in their little accident. He looked around at his senior staff and raised his glass, “To us,” he said.
“To the most eccentric crew in the galaxy!” Jall said, raising his in return.
“Actually, Noonan said, “The crew of the USS Secondprize has that title,”
“Second most eccentric, then,” Stafford said.
“USS Explorer,” Fifebee advised him, “Judging from the ship logs I have stored in my database,”
“Perhaps. Though possibly the crew of Waystation has us beat,”
“To ONE OF the most eccentric crews in the fleet,” Wowyk said firmly.
“To us!” they echoed, clinking their glasses.
“Hey Sylvia,” Yanick called, “How about some music, please. Something cheerful!”
“Sure thing,” Sylvia replied. A Bolian rock-opera started playing, a strong female voice belting out incomprehensible lyrics and reaching pitches no human voice was meant to hit,”
“Good enough,” Stafford shrugged, “Hell, Sylvia, why don’t you join us?”
There was a shimmer next to Fifebee as a hologram of Sylvia appeared.
“Thought you’d never ask, dear,”
“Wow,” Jall twisted in his seat, appraising Sylvia from head to toe, “Sylvia! When’d you get…hot?”
Sylvia crossed her arms in annoyance.
“Hotter,” Jall correctly sheepishly.
“She’s trying to impress a young man on the Stallion,” Stafford teased.
“I most certainly am not!” Sylvia crossed her arms, but a small grin teased one corner of her mouth.
“Is he hot?” Yanick asked.
“Well behaved?” inquired Wowryk.
“Organic or artificial?” queried Fifebee.
“Yes, yes and organic,” Sylvia said, blushing.
“Oooo!” Yanick giggled, “sounds dreamy!”
Noonan and T’Parief exchange amused glances.
“Hey honey, let’s dance,” Yanick said suddenly, pulling on T’Parief’s arm.
“I’m really not drunk enough yet,” T’Parief said.
Yanick grabbed his drink, pushed his head back and poured it down his throat.
“Now?” she asked.
“Uh…OK,” he replied.
“C’mon Sylvia,” Yanick said, reaching out with her other arm.
“Dance?” Sylvia looked vaguely alarmed, “I don’t know how to dance!”
“Time to learn!”
Stafford took another pull on his drink, feeling more relaxed than he had in some time, despite the fact that his ship was possibly heading into imminent danger.
“You’re looking very pleased with yourself,” Wowryk said, arching an eyebrow.
“Not with myself,” Stafford said, glancing over to where Fifebee and Noonan were getting into a discussion over the insect-eating habits of the Gorn, “It’s been too long since everybody got along so well. It’s like, for the last few months we’ve been wary of each other, unwilling to get close,”
“Which was partly your fault, as I recall,” Wowryk said.
“No,” Stafford shook his head, “It wasn’t my fault we drifted apart. It’s my fault nobody did anything to try to fix it. And y’know, I tried really hard after Yvonnokoff spoke to us about it. I tried to build bridges, I tried to get people to bond and it just wasn’t working. And now, POOF!” he waved one hand back to where Yanick, T’Parief and Sylvia were dancing near the bar, “People are hanging out and goofing around like nothing happened,”
“You can’t make people bond,” Wowryk said thoughtfully, “Despite what Yvonnokoff says. You just have to let it happen,”
“I guess,” Stafford shrugged, “Either way, I’m glad everybody’s getting along again,”
“Everybody?” Wowryk asked, “Aren’t you forgetting somebody?”
Stafford’s eyes widened.
“SHIT!” he swore.
Jeffery sat quietly in his quarters, brooding.
Outside the narrow windows he could see the stars streaking by as Silverado flew through space at Warp 8. Part of him wanted to be worried about the engines; high warp cruising wasn’t really something the cross-patch ship had been especially good at.
But the rest of him didn’t really care.
His quarters were unbearably neat. The cleaning lady had clearly been doing her job; the rooms were so tidy it looked as though nobody had lived in them for months. The vid-screen was carefully cleaned; its black surface gleaming like obsidian. The rumbling of the engines was the only thing that he was really finding comforting; the Stallion’s engines had had an unpleasant whine to them, even at fairly low speeds. Silverado’s engine’s were a rumble, sort of like a distant train. But there was a discord to their tone; the sound that something was straining itself.
OK, so maybe he was able to worry about the engines a bit.
He blew out a breath and stood in front of his replicator. He needed something calming. Something that would soothe him a bit. But something Sylvia couldn’t know about it.
He started tapping at the replicator console, carefully trying to hide his actions from the omni-present computer personality. It wasn’t an easy task, but he was Chief Engineer after all. He started re-routing subroutines; feeding the monitoring systems for his replicator back into themselves so they’d continue to report an idle state. After that, he just had to put the engineering diagnostic programs into a self-diagnostic so they wouldn’t pick up the power usage.
It wasn’t that anything was going wrong; his modifications had worked perfectly. Too perfectly, in fact. It was almost as though the computer was eager to help him do something without attracting Sylvia’s attention.
Maybe, he thought, Sylvia’s sentience was rubbing off on the non-sentient portions of the computer in some way, causing it to take on its own personality?
There was a shudder as the ship hit some minor subspace disturbance, shaking Jeffery out of his thoughts.
Right, sentience spreading like a virus. He shook his head. That was an insane idea. And why the hell should he care? He was trying to be depressed here, the last thing he needed was some silly engineering problem cheering him up.
He ordered his illicit product, foot tapping nervously as the replicator worked. When it finished he quickly undid all his sabotage and went to his living room.
Deep in one of the Jefferies tubes, Lord Stalart sighed with relief. He’d been monitoring Jeffery’s intrusion into the computer systems, certain the engineer had been hot on his trail. Fortunately, it had turned out that Jeffery, like Stalart, simply wanted to escape the attention of the vile mechanical bitch known as Sylvia. Very much like Stalart did.
He felt a pang of sympathy for the human. True, Jeffery was a bloated, stinking giant of a life form, with a brain so primitive as to be incomprehensible. Still, he had tried to be a good father figure to Stalart when he had been dating Wowryk. He had taken Stalart to view equally incomprehensible athletic competitions, had brought him interesting things to eat and, most appreciated of all, afforded him breaks from the quashing attentions of the doctor.
Yes, Stalart decided, he might let Jeffery live.
It had taken him months to do his work. Slipping away from Wowryk for minutes at a time into the Jefferies tubes, making tiny, unnoticeable changes in the computer code, trying to break out of the prison these bipeds had inadvertently created for him. He would have succeeded much sooner, if it weren’t for the attentions of the vile mechanical bitch, Sylvia.
She caught him at every turn. She didn’t catch the small changes he had been making, but nowhere had been safe; she could pick him up by his very life readings, beaming him immediately back to the slender, attractive yet restraining arms of his adopted ‘mother’. His one victory had been to send out a distress call, right before Silverado had crossed into a parallel universe. Even that had been a long shot; the last time he had been with his people they were busy exiling him while they formed their new ‘democracy’. Rubbish. He had hoped that enough of his loyal followers might remain that he may be rescued, but none had come.
Instead he’d had a bigger break. Sylvia had left! No longer was he caught every time he ventured forth! Indeed, he’d been able to slip away from Wowryk, work his sabotage, then return unnoticed. It had taken him much work, but he’d been able to program the internal sensors to ignore his life-readings completely. He’s also programmed in a sequence that would lock on to him from anywhere in Silverado’s transporter range and beam him to a random, empty location on the ship, undetected by sensors. This was how he’d come on board after being left on Starbase 45. Disabling the comm system had been easy enough, preventing anybody on board from learning of his disappearance. He’d made enough preparations during her absence that there was nothing now that Sylvia could do to detect him, or even that he’d been making alterations. And the news of the attacks on Sylvia gave him hope that his message had, in fact, reached friendly ears. Though he wasn’t willing to risk further transmissions to confirm it.
He didn’t know all the details of this mission but from what did know, he had a very good feeling that his time had come.
Wowryk walked purposefully through the corridor on Deck 2, the senior-senior officer’s quarters. Noonan, Stafford, T’Parief and Jeffery, being at or above the rank of Lieutenant Commander, had quarters on this deck. Fifebee, Jall, Yanick and Wowryk were a deck down with the remainder of officers being housed deeper in the saucer, regardless of rank. Decks 2 and 3 were part of the superstructure that sat atop the saucer, along with the main shuttlebay, and as such had the best views. As usual, Starfleet was far too concerned with petty matters like the view to consider that it would only take one minute of bad piloting to shave the entire senior staff off the top of the ship faster than clipping the side-view mirror off an automobile.
But we digress.
Wowryk had lost the toss to Stafford, the two of them resorting to flipping a drink coaster to determine who had to go talk to Jeffery. Given that she was his ex-girlfriend and he was his best friend, Wowryk had felt that Stafford was a better choice. Stafford felt that Jeffery would be more likely to listen to her. Hence the toss.
As she approached Jeffery’s door, her nose detected a slight odor. It was very faint, the ship’s air circulation system whisking it away before she got a good whiff. As she stood at Jeffery’s door though, she could smell it again.
Smoke! There was a fire!
“Sylvia!” Wowryk cried, “Override door lock, Chief Medical Officer’s override, Matthew two-thirteen!”
“Yes, Doctor,” Sylvia replied immediately. She probably would have had more to say if the bulk of her attention wasn’t focused on the dance lessons currently taking place in the lounge.
Wowryk skidded into the room, sliding between the door panels before they even fully opened.
“Aw shoit,” Jeffery exclaimed, jumping to his feet and holding something behind his back.
“There’s no fire!” Wowryk exclaimed.
“Uh, Noel,” Jeffery moved carefully towards the disposal, “Nice to see ye, but I really just-“
Wowryk sniffed the air. The scent was heavy in the room.
“Simon Jeffery!” she exclaimed loudly, “What do you think you’re doing??? Are you INSANE?”
“It was just-“
“A cigarette?” Wowryk stalked across the room and seized Jeffery’s wrist, pulling the offending cylinder forwards, “Do you know how quickly this would kill you?”
“Ah didn’t think ye’d know the scent,” Jeffery said dully.
“We studied it in Medical History,” Wowryk said, “It was listed under ‘Human Stupidity’!”
“Simon,” Wowryk put her hands on her hips, “One thing you and this crew need to learn is that you can’t solve all of your problems with chemicals!”
“Crewman Gibson does,” Jeffery sulked, “And ye don’t give him shit for it,”
“Crewman Gibson,” Wowryk bit her lip, realizing saying more was boarding on a violation of Doctor-Patient Confidentiality, “Well, let’s just say even he’s not dumb enough to use cigarettes,”
“Funny,” Jeffery said, “He always smells like smoke-“
“Toss that out this instant!” Wowryk said, going to the closet a pulling out a casual-duty uniform, “Now get dressed!”
“Ye can’t give me orders!” Jeffery snapped, dropping the cigarette, “In case ye didn’t know, ye broke up with me!”
“You broke up with ME!” Wowryk snapped back, “And I’m not here to give you orders! I’m here because all your friends are down in the lounge having a great time enjoying each other’s company while you’re up here poisoning yourself!”
“Ah didn’t think ye cared,” Jeffery said.
“I lost the toss to Stafford,” Wowryk snapped.
“Oh, so now he’s meddlin’ in me life too?”
“Don’t be such a baby!” Wowryk crossed her arms, “Didn’t it occur to you that when people meddle, it’s usually because they want to make you happy?”
“Could have fooled me,” Jeffery fumed.
Wowryk threw the uniform at him.
“Fine!” she snapped, “I don’t care. Come have fun with us, or stay here and be miserable. Make up your own mind!”
She stalked to the door, then whirled to face him.
“And by the way,” she said, “Your couch is on fire! Have a nice night!”
And she left.
Jeffery stared at the door for a good ten seconds while her words sunk in. Then, somewhat panicked, he hit the manual activation panel for the fire-suppression system.
The systems in the crew quarters had, fortunately, been upgraded from the old foam dispensers to the newer force-field units. A force field immediately sparked to life, smothering the flames and reducing his couch to a pile of rubble. Hmm. At least those systems were working properly. Still, the remnants of his couch were really not conducive to his previous plans of spending the evening at home.
Sighing, he pulled on the uniform Wowryk had thrown at him, tapped in a maintenance request to replace his couch and headed for the lounge.
In Unbalanced Equations things were continuing on in pleasant fashion. Yanick and Jall had finished teaching Sylvia the basics of dancing to rock, house and Klingon Stomp music and had moved on to the Andorian tango. Unfortunately, since they didn’t have steel blades, body armor or the willingness to have their limbs amputated, the dance style really lost a lot of its authenticity. Still, they were having fun. Stafford had joined Fifebee and Noonan as the discussion drifted over to blood-sucking insects, something that Fifebee found very distasteful but for whom Noonan seemed to have sympathy. Stafford’s contribution to the conversation was somewhat limited to ‘I don’t like being bitten,’ after which Noonan had, for some reason, been overcome by a fit of giggles.
Wowryk had already returned and taken a seat at the bar, watching the dancers. A few of the other off-duty crewmen who had remained aboard had joined them as well; Stern and a couple members of the Hazardous Team sat in one of the big booths in the corner by the windows and Nurse Kerry was having a drink with two Ensign Nakeths.
Jeffery walked in the wood-paneled doors and took a look around. Nobody was behind the bar. He debated paying attention to Wowryk’s ‘chemical dependency’ rant, then decided to ignore her and poured himself a pint.
Carefully keeping his distance from Wowryk, he found an empty table near one wall and settled himself in. He realized that nearly half of the people in the room were pissed with him. He’d offended Sylvia, abandoned Wowryk and was pretty sure Stafford was on their side. Well fine. He’d sit here for a while, show them that he wasn’t scared of them and then run back to his smoldering quarters with his tail between his legs.
He was surprised then, when T’Parief abandoned the dancers to take a seat at Jeffery’s table. An uncomfortable seat, as his tail was a tight fit, but a seat nonetheless.
“I hear the women on the Stallion are…impressive,” he said by way of greeting.
“Hmmph,” Jeffery said, “Aye, they are. And thanks,”
“For not saying ‘it’s good to have ye back’,”
“You are welcome,”
They sat in silence for a moment, Jeffery sipping his beer and watching Sylvia dance around with Jall and Yanick, T’Parief sipping a smoking Gorn concoction, staring at the wall and wondering just why Steven had put a picture of a cat on the wall if he didn’t intend on serving them with rice and szinzar sauce. It was unfair to tease customers like that.
“What do you plan to do now?” he asked Jeffery.
“Do now?” Jeffery asked, “What do ye mean?”
“Do you plan to continue your role here, seek reassignment or resign from Starfleet,” T’Parief said, counting the choices on one had, “Or, you could take leave to sort things out,”
“A-Ah hadn’t really thought about it,” Jeffery admitted. He’d just assumed he’d be staying on board.
“That is what Yanick said,” T’Parief said, “She surprises me sometimes, for a blond,”
“Uh-huh,” Jeffery frowned, “So she sent you here to talk to me?”
“No,” T’Parief said, “She gossiped about you at great length, but did not suggest I speak to you,”
“Soo, ye just came out of the goodness of yer heart?” now Jeffery was confused.
“No,” T’Parief said, the tips of his fangs showing, “I came because if you resolve your issues I will not have to listen to gossip about you while I try to eat!”
“Oh,” Jeffery slumped, “Well, if it makes ye feel better, without me she’d just find something else to gossip about,”
T’Parief slumped ever deeper than Jeffery.
“You are right,” he said.
They both drank deeply.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 78255.4:
“We’ve arrived at Delorea II to begin our investigation into just why the images of this planet make it look like it’s covered by water covered by oil. Or something like that. Temporal anomalies, disturbances, blah, blah, blah. Honestly, with ships encountering anomalies every second day, you’d really think that they wouldn’t be anomalies anymore.”
“I’m pleased to report that the last two weeks have been fairly painless, other than Jeffery moping around like a beaten puppy and complaining about the strain two weeks of Warp 8 is putting on the ship. And Sylvia telling me that Jeffery’s being overprotective and that the ship’s holding up fine. And Jeffery telling me that Sylvia’s being a ‘git’, which I always thought was a British insult, not a Scottish one. And Jeffery telling me there’s nothing wrong with diversifying his profanity.”
“Anyway, you get the point. At least the rest of the crew is getting along better. Now we just have to finish this very simple task and go on about our business.
“All right,” Stafford said, lounging back in his chair, “Let’s do this by the book. Fifebee, start your sensor sweeps. Yanick, standard orbit. Jall, how’s the automation holding up?”
“I’m holding up just fine,” Sylvia interrupted.
Jall turned in his seat to look back.
“She IS the automation, sir,” Jall pointed out.
“Good enough,” Stafford sighed.
“I’m doing OK too!” Yanick said, “Even with all these weird energy eddies, I’m still holding standard orbit A-OK!”
“Good show, Trish,” Noonan smiled, “Fifebee?”
Fifebee tapped at her panel at the rear of the bridge for several seconds.
“I have no record of any readings like this,” she said, “They’re really not making any sense. There are clearly temporal anomalies on the planet, but they do not appear to conform to…anything, really. Certainly not any known time-travel anomalies or technology.”
“Uh, OK,” Stafford said, getting up out of his seat and moving to look over her shoulder. On the curved display panel of the science station he could see an image of the planet, over which was superimposed what could be conflicting energy fields or disturbingly raunchy amoeba pornography. The planet itself was fairly Earth-like, close to two-thirds of the surface covered by oceans and an M-Class environment.
“I’m reading seven distinct temporal fields,” Fifebee said, “One for each major continent, in fact. They appear to be longitudinal, with convergences here, and here.” She gestured at two points at opposite ends of the planet. Stafford could see pretty crossing lines, but aside from that really had no idea what he was looking at.
“Are they man-made?” Noonan asked.
Fifebee raised an eyebrow, Vulcan-style.
“Unlikely, as ‘man’, generally meaning humans, have never set foot on this planet,”
Stafford rolled his eyes and raised a hand.
“They do not appear to be natural,” Fifebee went on, having seen Stafford’s expression reflected on her display.
Stafford looked closer at the display.
“What are those little lights?” he asked, pointing.
“Lights,” Fifebee shrugged, “The temporal interference is preventing me from scanning for EM or subspace emissions that would indicate a civilization, therefore I am compiling a map of artificial illumination,”
“Uh, right,” Stafford squinted, “So the planet’s inhabited?”
“What about this dark patch?”
“There are no lights there,”
Stafford crossed his arms.
“Well DUH!” he said.
“Which indicates there is no sign of civilization on that continent,” Fifebee continued.
“Captain,” T’Parief rumbled, “I have a vessel approaching fast at 323 mark 1!”
“Identity?” Noonan asked.
T’Parief tapped his panel.
“It matches the vessel that the Stallion encountered at Scarborus VIII,” he reported, “And the ship from the report on this planet,”
“Sylvia’s would-be kidnappers,” Stafford said, “Shields up! Arm weapons! Battlestations!”
Deep in the core of the ship, Lord Stalart was startled as the red alert klaxon started to sound, red lights blinking on his panel. Honestly, he mused, even humans weren’t stupid enough to need the constant reminder that they were at alert status. What was the point?
Tapping into the sensor feed he pulled up a scan of the surrounding space and nearly fell off his chair.
Help had arrived.
The bridge doors hissed open as Wowryk arrived on the bridge.
“Shouldn’t you be in Sickbay?” Stafford asked.
“Maybe,” Wowryk shrugged, “But since we hardly have any crew to get sick and you don’t have much in the way of backup up her, I figured I’d be better off close by,” she patted the med-kit hanging at her side.
“Good point,” Stafford admitted.
“We’re being hailed,” Jall reported.
“On screen,” Noonan ordered.
The image of a baby appeared. He looked to be around three years old, with the cutest dusting of red hair. He was dressed in a silvery pair of overalls, with strange symbols on the shoulders. He’d be adorable, if not for the cold look on his face.
“I’m, er,” Stafford fought back a smile, “Captain Chris Stafford of the United Federation of Planets,” he lost his battle to stay professional, “Uh, do you need help finding your mommy?”
“Oh, nice first impression,” Jall groaned quietly.
The child stared at them for several moments.
“Uh, sorry about the bad joke,” Stafford offered weakly.
Finally the alien turned to one side. Another ‘child’ approached him and attached an odd electronic device to the side of his head.
“I am Master Klendar, commander of the Arcanian Warship Overseer,” the voice came through clearly, but the alien’s mouth never moved, “Surrender the bitch Sylvia to us and return Lord Stalart at once!”
“Fascinating,” Fifebee said, “Clearly they’re unable to vocalize. I wonder if they communicate with telepathy?”
“I’m sure we can come to a reasonable compromise,” Noonan said smoothly. The alien made a nodding gesture and Noonan fell back, wincing in pain.
Immediately all preconceptions of cute alien babies was tossed out Stafford’s window. If they could hurt Noonan with a gesture…
“Look,” Stafford said, “I don’t know what you want with Sylvia, but believe me, her nagging isn’t something you need in your life,”
“Thanks, Chris!” Sylvia cut in.
“I’m trying to protect you!” Stafford hissed.
“As for this Stalart person,” Stafford shrugged, “I’m afraid I’ve never heard of him,”
“Uh, Captain,” Wowryk was looking very worried.
“Our ruler and all-knowing leader, Lord Stalart of the territory of Arcania,” Klendar went on, “Was wrongly exiled by the cowards of Misticus. He was sent towards your territory. We demand his safe return immediately!”
“Chris!” Wowryk hissed.
“Not now,” Stafford said to Wowryk. He turned to the screen, “We don’t know who you’re talking about. Now kindly stand down, or we’ll just have to defend ourselves!”
“You were warned,” Klendar said darkly. The screen flickered off.
“They’re firing!” T’Parief called out. The ship shook hard as an iridescent purple beam lanced out of the smaller vessel’s bulbous forward section, striking the upper surface of the saucer.
“Return fire,” Stafford said, “All conventional weapons!”
“It has been too long,” T’Parief sighed, lovingly stroking the weapons panel.
Phasers and torpedoes flew from Silverado’s weapons, hitting the alien ship. The smaller vessel staggered then returned fire; a large, twinkling tri-cobalt device. The tri-cobalt hit Silverado’s shields hard, the energy backlash penetrating the shields before they could compensate and leaving a darkened scar on the engineering section. T’Parief returned fire, heavily damaging the smaller vessel’s shields.
Deeper in Silverado, Lord Stalart was on the move. Klendar, his trusted second-in-command, had found his distress call! Clearly something had been garbled. Stalart had stated that he was being held captive on the Silverado, that Sylvia was his biggest impediment to escape and that he wanted rescue. Klendar had rightfully gone after Sylvia, but an earlier rescue attempt would have been more convenience for Stalart.
No matter. He was here now. Silverado could match one of Arcania’s vessels, but Stalart had a plan for that.
“Their shields are almost down,” T’Parief reported.
“Disable their weapons,” Stafford ordered.
“Locking phasers,” T’Parief reported.
Stalart arrived at Computer Core Control, using a bamboo stick he’d swiped from the arboretum to tap at the door controls. It didn’t take him long to get access to the core itself. Running quickly through the circular passageway running between the banks of gel-packs and isolinear chip racks, he found his query.
Sylvia’s self-contained module.
“Luke!” Sylvia exclaimed, “What are you doing on board, you little tyke! You should be at Starbase 45!” her voice suddenly became worried, “Wait, why I can I see you on visuals, but not-“
<Now,> Stalart though-spoke coldly, <I am in control, bitch!>
He gripped Sylvia’s module and yanked it out of the computer core.
“Their weapons are offline,” T’Parief reported.
“Chris,” Sylvia said, “I think you-“
“Sylvia?” Stafford asked.
The ship shuddered, the stars starting to pinwheel across the screen. Panels flickered in and out, the main overhead lights dimmed and emergency lighting kicked in.
“I’m getting serious systems failures across the board!” Jall cried, “Sensors, shields, weapons, everything is going haywire!”
Stafford jumped to his feet, rushing to the ship schematic on the rear wall of the bridge, noticing Fifebee flickering out of existence as he passed her station.
The schematic itself kept blinking in and out, but every time it came back on more red indicators were lit. Somewhere a thruster fired randomly, sending the ship into an even wilder spin. Phaser beams lanced out in random directions, tractor beams flickered in and out and the replicator at the front of the bridge suddenly started spewing out cheese and crackers.
“I have no control!” Jall said, “I can’t get anything to respond!”
“Helm control is all messed up!” Yanick said.
“This is really not good,” Noonan said, “Try to switch to computer backups,”
The turbolift doors hissed open and Jeffery stepped out.
“Jeffery!” Stafford spun to face the engineer, “What’s happening?”
“We’re boned,” he gasped, “I barely got the lift to bring me here in one piece!”
“Why are you here?” Stafford said quickly, “Since we’re kinda in a crisis!”
“Ah thought ye’d want to know what’s up,” Jeffery snapped, “But with the comm lines down-“
“Spit it out!”
“Somebody snatched Sylvia!” Jeffery said, “Same thing happened to the Niagra when I unhooked her!”
“Great!” Stafford growled, “How do we fix things?”
“Reboot,” Jeffery said.
“Don’t you think we’ve been trying?” Jall cut in, “The main computer’s not responding, and the backup systems keep getting overridden by the main systems!”
“Sir!” T’Parief called, dodging a fire suppression field as it was randomly activated, “A signal is coming through,”
“To the wrong panel!” Jall added.
T’Parief tapped his console.
“Um,” he frowned.
“Oh, it’s on my console now!” Yanick said, “Oh, it’s gone,”
“And I now have control of sewage and processing,” Jall swore as his panel flickered again, “Make that, er, the library check-out listings,”
“Whoever gets it next, put it on the screen!” Stafford ordered.
“Are they getting this?” this time it wasn’t Klendar as the screen flickered to life, “I know their systems are down, I sabotaged them!” Another pause. “No, I didn’t think about how I was going to gloat with their comm down, I just wanted to escape! Oh, there you are!”
“Luke!” Wowryk breathed.
“I KNEW IT!” T’Parief roared.
“Yes, hello, ‘Mother’,” Lord Stalart, now equipped with a vocalizer, said, his thoughts being translated into speech by the device, “While your breasts are most delightful, I despise the wretched captivity you have imposed on me for this pasts year! I have been waiting all that time to tell you just how much I hate you,” his eyes flickered to the rest of the bridge crew, “All of you! Now, I’m quite sure that your vessel is doomed, now that I have what I want,” he hauled up a computer module in both hands, wires and cables dangling from connection points.
“Sylvia!” Jeffery snapped.
“Simon!” Sylvia’s voice came from the speaker on one side, “Chris! Don’t worry about me, kick this little monster’s ass!”
“You give her back you bastard!” Stafford shouted, glaring at Stalart.
“I am shaking in my booties,” Stalart declared, “But now, brave crew, it is time to end your voyage to the stars. Thank you, by the way, for finding such a convenient planet to dump you on!”
The screen flickered out.
“Dump us on?” Yanick wondered.
“They’ve locked a tractor beam on us!” Jall reported, “I think. Either that or the replicator in my quarters is offline again,”
“Can we break free?” Stafford snapped.
“Given a few hours to shut down and reboot?” Jall shrugged, “Maybe. As it is, I think Jeffery’s right. We’re boned,”
The image of Delora II grew larger on the flickering main screen, the enemy vessel dead ahead and using their tractor beam to pull Silverado into the atmosphere.
“Can we get a tractor beam on them?”
T’Parief tapped at his console. A feeble beam speared out for a moment, then faded out.
“Engines are still offline!” Yanick cried.
“Captain,” Noonan said softly.
“Fire phasers! Disable their tractor beam generator!” Stafford ordered furiously, ignoring Noonan.
“We’re entering the outer atmosphere,” Jall reported. Glancing at the clear dome over the command chairs, Noonan could see the faintest reddening as friction began to build with the planet’s atmosphere.
“Chris,” he said, gripping Stafford by the arm and pulling him face to face, “It’s time to abandon ship,”
“NO!” Stafford snapped, “This is MY ship and we are NOT letting her go down!”
“Weapons are offline,” T’Parief reported.
“Don’t make me force you,” Noonan said softly.
“You wouldn’t DARE!” Stafford seethed.
Noonan looked around. Stafford followed his gaze to T’Parief, Yanick, Wowryk and Jall. His officers, the people who would go down with the ship if he didn’t order them to safety. What mattered to him more now…saving his ship, or saving his crew?
“All hands,” he jammed a finger in the all-call button on his chair, opening the shipwide emergency broadcast channel, “Abandon ship. Repeat, all hands abandon ship.”