Author: Brendan Chris
“I don’t think this is going to work,”
“Have some faith in me, man!”
“I don’t know you well enough to have in faith in you. But I definitely know enough about what you’re doing to believe that this is not going to work,”
“Hasn’t everybody ever told yer species that honesty is overrated??”
“Yes. We do not care.”
Lt. Commander Jeffery, Lt. Commander Valtaic and Commander Jall were in Main Engineering, standing around the open space that used to hold Silverado’s warp core. Main Engineering, as the central control center for the core, had housed the matter-antimatter reaction chamber in which the huge amounts of energy needed for faster-than-light travel were produced. However, the warp core itself had stretched several decks in both directions; up to the matter injectors and the deuterium storage tanks above and down to the antimatter injectors and antimatter storage pods below. The design also allowed the core to be ejected out the bottom of the ship in the event of a catastrophe.
Silverado had suffered a catastrophe. Now there was nothing but an open shaft reaching the entire height of the engineering hull. Looking down, Valtaic could see the closed ejection hatch several decks below. Along the sides of the shaft, each deck had railings designed to prevent hapless crewmen from taking a long, long tumble. Snaking up one side of the shaft was a pair of conduits, looking more than slightly jury rigged. Valtaic returned his attention to the device Jeffery was working on. The device was bolted to the deck to one side of the core shaft, with a central sphere connected to two cylinders. An identical device was bolted to the deck on the opposite side of the shaft.
“There is no possible way we can power the warp drive with these puny things,” Valtaic said.
“Aye, ye told me that,” Jeffery said, attaching another conduit to the device, “But as Ah told ye, we’re not trying to! The Senousians don’t have a warp core powerful enough to drive this ship, neither do the Matrians. And by the time the Senousians built us one, we could have Starfleet deliver one to our doorstep!”
The devices in main engineering were in fact the warp cores from a pair of small Matrian patrol ships, barely larger than runabouts. Jeffery and Valtaic had spent several days running fuel conduits into main engineering; magnetic conduits for the antimatter supply and standard conduits for the deuterium supply. Ignoring the two large power-transfer conduits that had linked Silverado’s old warp core to the Electro-Plasma System taps and warp nacelles, Jeffery was connecting the Matrian cores directly to the EPS taps. As Valtaic had said, there was no way the tiny cores could hope to power Silverado’s warp drive. But even a small antimatter reactor produced much more power than Silverado’s impulse reactors, which relied on fusion to function. Considering the power requirements of the ship’s weapons and shields and the fact that the Qu’eh could drop in at any time, it had been decided ‘better this than nothing’.
In other words, Silverado was getting a bit desperate.
“How’s it going, gents?” Stafford asked, walking into Main Engineering.
“We’re almost ready for the test,” Jall said, not turning to face Stafford.
“Aye,” Jeffery confirmed, “And Ah’m very sure this won’t blow us up. Y’know, unlike the last thing Ah tried,”
“Give it a rest, Simon,” Stafford said, “It’s not your fault,”
“And blaming yourself to gain attention will only annoy us,” Valtaic added.
Stafford shot him a dirty look.
“Oh, yes,” Valtaic muttered to himself, his energy field flaring slightly with annoyance, “Humans are emotionally fragile,”
“Stop doing that,” Jall said, “It makes my hair stand up! Do you KNOW how hard it is do this ‘doo’?” He gestured at his hair, which had been carefully styled into a spiked, ‘bed-head’ look.
“I don’t see a difference,” Valtaic said, this time deliberately pulsing his field, causing everybody’s hair to stand up and salute.
“Stop it,” Stafford ordered, “Both of you. Jeffery, can we try this thing out?”
“Just about,” Jeffery said, “Ah gotta connect the output still. Unless ye want the room to be flooded with high-energy plasma?”
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” Crewman Roscoe asked.
“Nope,” Crewman Gibson said, “But it’s going to be fun!”
“If you’re so excited about it, why am I going first?” Crewman Shwaluk asked.
Roscoe and Gibson exchanged glances. Bosco, Roscoe’s monkey, chattered from his perch on Roscoe’s shoulder. It was a well known fact that if something was going to go wrong, it would go wrong to Shwaluk. Better him than the two of them, they figured.
“OK,” Gibson said, taking another drag off the doobie the three of them were sharing and getting into position behind Shwaluk, “You’re all tied off. Ready?”
“No,” Shwaluk whimpered.
“Set?” Roscoe asked, joining Gibson.
“OK,” Jeffery said, tapping a control panel, “That should just about do it.”
Valtaic and Jall exchanged a glance, then quickly moved out of the core area and behind the curved transparent aluminum window separating the core area from the rest of Main Engineering.
“We’re just going to monitor from back here,” Jall said, “In case we need to quickly adjust Silverado’s systems,”
“And because we fear for our safety,” Valtaic added.
Stafford looked from Valtaic and Jall safe behind the panel, to Jeffery hunched over an alien antimatter reactor.
“I’m with them,” he said, jerking a thumb in Jall’s direction and scurrying behind the window.
“Loser,” Jeffery muttered, tapping the last button.
There was a hum from the device as the magnetic fields activated. Fuel started flowing through the conduits running up and down the empty warp core shaft. After several seconds, the Matrian core lit up and a high-pitched thrumming sound filled the room.
Jeffery released a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding. Behind the window panel, Stafford, Jeffery and Valtiac peeked over the console they’d jumped behind when Jeffery activated the reactor.
“We’re, ahem, receiving power,” Valtiac said stiffly.
“Yeah,” Jall said, tapping the panel, “Not bad. Do you want to turn up the output? See how much juice we can get out of that sucker?”
Jeffery examined the Matrian controls on the reactor.
“Uh, it’s already at 100%,” he said.
“What?” Jall sneered, “That’s it?”
“It’ll do,” Stafford said, turning to go, “Good work, bud. See if you can get the other one going too, OK?”
“Aye, thanks,” Jeffery said softly.
“It must be nice to be on such good terms with the Captain,” Jall said snidely as Stafford left.
“Are ye still on about that double date thing?” Jeffery asked, turning to tinker with the Matrian reactor.
“That’s only part of it,” Jall said sharply, “But trying to get me to date Anselia, assuming I’d want to be on Yanick’s cheerleading squad…it’s all just the last in the long string of his heterosexual arrogance!”
Valtaic raised an eyebrow.
“That is a new one,” he said, “But did you not enjoy the cheerleading?”
“That’s not the point!”
“Whatever it is, the two of ye can figure it out,” Jeffery declared, “I really don’t care about…wait. Do ye hear somethin’?”
A faint scream, quickly growing louder, could be heard. Suddenly, Crewman Shwaluk flew by, falling down the warp core shaft, bungee cord attached to his ankles. He plummeted past, barely missing the Matrian reactor. The three officers rushed over, peering down the railing and watching as he came slowly to a halt, barely a meter above the ejection port hatch. The bungee cord retracted, sending him flying back towards engineering, still screaming and flailing his arms.
“Of all the-“ Jeffery cursed, “If he hits the reactor-“
Sure enough, on his way back up, Shwaluk slammed into the Matrian reactor, one arm catching against the output conduit and yanking it out of the socket. High-energy plasma surged into the room as Jeffery, Jall and Valtaic bolted behind the closing emergency doors.
“Minor lacerations and contusions,” Dr. Wowryk reported, running her tricorder over Jeffery, “Nothing serious. You probably just banged into a console in your mad rush to escape, right?”
“Aye,” Jeffery said quickly. He was sitting on a bio-bed in Sickbay.
“The rest of you are fine,” Wowryk said, “Thank the grace of God you weren’t injured.”
“Must I?” Valtaic asked politely.
“If you know what’s good for you,” Wowryk answered in the same tone.
Shrugging, Valtaic looked at the floor.
“Thank you, God,” he said.
“Um, traditionally, people look up when addressing the heavenly deity,” Wowryk said calmly.
“Human customs,” Valtiac sighed.
“And it wouldn’t hurt to put in a prayer for Crewman Shwaluk while you’re at it,” Wowryk said to all three.
“Is it really bad?” Jall asked.
“The plasma output from the reactor dissolved his right arm,” Wowryk said bluntly, “It’ll take days to clone a new one and attach it,”
“I guess he’s off duty for a while, huh?”
“Yes,” Wowryk said, “Although, he was more upset about not being able to see Jack leave. Whomever Jack is,”
“Huh?” Jall raised an eyebrow.
“Well, he said he was upset that he couldn’t see Jack off without his right hand,” Wowryk said, “Honestly, I don’t know who Jack is, or where he’s going,”
“Neither do I,” Valtaic said.
“Forget it,” Jall said, “Both of you!” He turned to Jeffery. “How long will it take you to get the reactor going again?”
“An hour or two,” Jeffery answered, “We’re goin’ to have to get some replacement parts from the Matrians. If they have any to spare,”
“High priority,” Jall said, getting up to leave, “C’mon, Valtaic. Let’s go see who else needs to be bothered,”
“If we must,” Valtaic sighed.
As the two left, Jeffery sat very still, waiting for Wowryk to finish treating his injuries. It had been stupid, really. He’d rolled under the closing emergency door right into his tool kit, cutting himself on a jagged piece of deck-plating he’d removed when he was installing the reactor. He’d jumped up in a panic, banging his head on the corner of a console.
“I understand you’ve been working very hard the past few days,” Wowryk said, her words sounding a bit forced.
“There’s a lot to do,” Jeffery said defensively, “Getting’ the Matrian reactors hooked up, runnin’ the fuel lines-“
“And I understand you’ve been spending a lot of time in the computer core as well,” Her eyes flicked over to the far bio-bed, where Sylvia’s module lay.
“There might be somethin’ in there that’ll tell me what happened to her,” Jeffery said.
“It’s not your fault, Simon,” Wowryk said, her lips tightening.
Jeffery suddenly realized that Wowryk had been very calm, almost subdued during his entire Sickbay visit. Even Jall hadn’t managed to raise her blood pressure!
“Noel, are ye OK?” he asked.
“Three hundred Matrians died just over a week ago,” she said, “Is there a reason why I shouldn’t be upset about that?”
“Nay, no reason at all,” Jeffery said quickly, “I just sort of thought, that, y’know, after the games on Matria that everybody was feeling a bit better. But Ah guess that’s not the sort of thing ye get over easily,”
“Oh, Simon,” she said sadly, “You’re so…submissive. I’ve missed that,”
“Ye have?” Jeffery squeaked.
“Well,” Wowryk quickly forced herself to be serious again, “Sometimes.”
“Ah hate the way things ended between us,” Jeffery blurted, “Ah didn’t want to hurt ye!”
“You did,” Wowryk said flatly, “But let’s try not to think about that. Otherwise I might have to hurt you,”
“Yes, Noel,” Jeffery said.
Wowryk worked in silence for several moments.
“Did ye want to get somethin’ to eat at Platterheads when yer done?” he asked.
Wowryk raised an eyebrow.
“Not a date, or anythin’,” Jeffery said quickly, “But, ye know, ye look like ye could use a friend about now. And Ah know Ah sure could,”
Wowryk thought for a moment.
“Just let me check on Crewman Shwaluk first,” she said, “The last I saw, Kerry was trying to take a tissue sample for his cloned arm and he was hiding behind the furniture.”
“Doesn’t she know ye can do that with just a few strands of DNA?” Jeffery asked.
“Yes she does,” Wowryk said, “But Crewman Shwaluk doesn’t.”
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58844.4:
“It’s been over a week since the Qu’eh attack. Governess Gelitha’s sports thingy was a good way to build our rapport with the Matrians, but we’ve still got a dangerous enemy out there. We’re still fuzzy on what they want; so far we haven’t been able to learn anything new about them. I have been meeting with Admiral Verithi, the commander of the Matrian space force, partly to be sure were ready if the Qu’Eh attack again, as well as in the interest of our overall mission. The woman is a vile, rude bitch, but she’s determined to whip her people into shape. The scary thing is, when the Matrian Defense Forces are absorbed into Starfleet, she’ll probably end up outranking me!
The Senousian cruiser Nepel’Reng is currently on a scouting mission to some of the nearby systems. Prefect Telfedi, whom I hope to have a closer visit with at some point, hopes that they will be able to learn something.”
“On ship, things are grim. Even with Jeffery’s jury-rigged reactors we’re going to be hard-pressed to defend ourselves. Sylvia remains ‘in a coma’ or ‘offline’, depending on whether you listen to Wowryk or Fifebee. More than a few people are more than a bit upset about this, myself included.”
“On top of this, we still have to focus on our original mission: getting the Matrians back on their feet and settled into the Federation. To that end, Fifebee is working with her team to analyze the data recovered from the wrecked Matrian habitat while I get to go down to the planet and do…something.”
“What am I doing again?” Stafford asked. He was standing in the transporter room wearing his white dress uniform and looking for all the galaxy like a waiter in a posh restaurant.
“You’re going down to Matria Prime to observe their council session,” Jall reminded him coldly, “Do try to keep your facts straight!”
“I’m not a politician, though,” Stafford groaned, avoiding the obvious ‘straight’ joke only through the supreme application of willpower, “Why aren’t you handling this?”
“Because by going yourself you’re showing the Matrians how important their government is to you,” Jall said, “Which it damned well should be, considering!”
“Plus,” Ensign Pysternzyks added from behind the control console, “You have a much better chance at achieving a bloody, glorious death!”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,”
“I’m here,” Dr. Wowryk said crisply, striding into the transporter room, “Now, could somebody tell me what I’m doing again?”
“Oy,” Jall groaned, rubbing his forehead, “Why don’t you explain this to the Queen of Darkness? I’m going to go find somebody to yell at,”
He turned and stepped quickly out of the transporter room.
“He’s angry again?” Wowryk asked.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, looking back in the direction Jall had gone, “I’m getting a bit worried. His fits don’t usually last this long,”
“You’re talking about the man who held a three-year grudge against Starfleet for demoting him,” Wowryk reminded Stafford.
“Good point,” Stafford nodded, stepping up onto the transporter pad, “OK, are you ready to go?”
“I still don’t know what I’m doing!”
“Queen Anselia invited us to attend their council session,” Stafford explained, “From what I can tell, that means we need to sit in a corner and look pretty while they talk about…stuff,”
“I think my time would be better spent trying to figure out why Sylvia is still in a coma,” Wowryk said stiffly.
“Is there anything you think you can do?” Stafford was suddenly hopeful.
“In the short term?” she gave her head a small shake, “Not likely.”
“Then you may as well help me understand just what the hell is going through these people’s minds,”
“I see,” Wowryk sighed, “Fun,”
“Have you considered using an inverse tachyon pulse?” Lab Technician First Class Smedi asked, leaning over Fifebee’s shoulder. She had loaded the data recovered from the Matrian debris and isolated it in a secured computer system. She was in the process of analyzing it, bit by byte.
“That would require the actual data core itself,” Fifebee said, purposefully not looking back at the overweight Trill, “And would have the unfortunate effect of destroying the data core and all data contained within,”
“Not if you ran it though a phase inverter and a tachyon filter!” Smedi said, smacking one fist into the other palm.
Beside him, Lab Technician Second Class H’Kspeda sighed, her snake-like Selay tongue giving a half-hearted flick. It was the sigh of somebody who knew the battle was lost, but that they were still stuck on the battlefield.
“If you ran an inverse tachyon pulse through a phase inverter and a tachyon filter, it would not only cease to be inverse, it would also cease to be a tachyon pulse!” Fifebee snapped.
“Well, yeah,” Smedi admitted, “But it wouldn’t damage the data core that way, right?”
“A moot point, considering we do not HAVE the data core!” Fifebee shouted, “Now is there a reason why you are bothering me, or do you have actual work to do?”
“Well, er,” Smedi swallowed.
“I had a thought for retrieving some of the damaged data from what Mr. Jeffery uploaded last week,” H’Kspeda said quickly, stepping in front of Smedi and hoping he’d have the sense to shut up for once.
“Please, do share it,” Fifebee said, sounding more than a bit snide. She’d been through the collection of data fragments up, down, sideways and through a few dimensions not typically used by three-dimensional beings. She had found several interesting tidbits of information, such as the fact that the Matrians used to really enjoy a television show called ‘Hender’s House’. Unfortunately, the recovered data didn’t include a synopsis or any episodes. She’d also learned, from both the bits of recovered data and the scans of the data core itself, that the old Matrian Empire had been at least on par with the Federation in terms of technological achievements. What she hadn’t found was something that would really help the Matrians learn about their past. Her attempts at researching the Old Matrians had been especially frustrating, as huge amounts of data from ‘official’ sources showed subtle signs of tampering. To make matters worse, the system was updated daily with reports of Matrians who ‘remembered’ things differently from the computer records. The result was a giant mess of confusion.
“Did you try comparing the data fragments recovered in the wreckage to the data files in the current Matrian database?” H’Kspeda asked.
“That would be pointless,” Fifebee said, “The data in the current database has been tampered with. It cannot be relied on. Unless you believe that the Old Matrians actually executed men who could not produce erections of sufficient quality?”
“Eeeps,” Smedi squeaked.
“But the tampering is subtle, yes?” H’Kspeda asked, flexing her King Cobra-like head flaps, “You could perhaps find enough similarities between the two-“
“-that I could use the recovered fragments to reverse some of the tampering!” Fifebee exclaimed, “Yes! That is an excellent idea, Ms. H’Kspeda.
“Thank you-“ H’Kspeda started, bowing.
Smedi promptly shoved her out of the way.
“So, how do we go about doing this?” he asked Fifebee, “Maybe an adaptive data-mining algorithm?”
“Somehow,” Fifebee said dryly, “I do not think that advanced spyware is going to help us in this case. I will handle it. Thank you.”
She turned and stepped out of the science lab.
“Damn!” Smedi cursed, slamming a fist against the lab table, “How am I supposed to get dirt on Stafford if I can’t even get the senior staff to talk to me??”
“Maybe you should just-“ H’Kspeda started.
“I’ve got to get in good with them,” Smedi went on, talking mostly to himself, “The whole warp core thing, the attack…there has to be a way to blame Stafford for all of it.”
H’Kspeda sighed. Every since he’d spoken to Lydia Thomspon of Starfleet Humanoid Resources, Smedi had been intent on reporting back to her all of Stafford’s many faults. Most of these were dismissed as either ‘irrelevant’ or ‘yes, I already knew about that’. The only exception so far had been the status of Stafford’s love life, which Thompson had managed to leak to a few select captains. She’d been thrilled to hear that the resulting fallout had all but ruined the working relationship between Stafford and Jall. She’d been somewhat less thrilled when Stafford went on a sex-binge and wound up being falsely accused of drug use. So far, none of Smedi’s ‘intel’ had been sufficient for what Thompson wanted. In fact, she’d basically told him that their ‘relationship’ was over. He knew he could get into her good graces by finding something really damaging on Stafford, but it had to be a major screw-up. Something that couldn’t just be dismissed as ‘Well, that’s not as bad as what the Secondprize just did!’. Although nothing like that had come up yet, Smedi was confident that, given the situation in Matrian Space, something would. Sooner or later.
“The Matrian Council is now in session,” Queen Anselia announced, ringing a small bell. She was resplendent in a perfectly tailored green suit. Next to her, King Hektor wore a blue blouse and a dark kilt-like garment. Stafford and Wowryk, seated in the observer’s gallery, had become increasingly aware during their time on Matria Prime, that there was a definite trend among the Matrians, with women wearing what a human would describe as more masculine clothing. Given the dominant role of females in Matrian society, Stafford supposed that made sense. Still, he would much rather see Anselia back in a beautiful gown…maybe something strapless, to better show off those beautiful-
OK, back on track, he reminded himself. You’re here as a Federation representative, learning about the Matrian political system.
The first thing he’d asked his guide, a young Matrian woman named Kendy, was whether or not Anselia and Hektor were married. He was relieved to hear that since the King and Queen were elected, they were not in fact a married couple.
The Matrian Council chamber was unchanged from Stafford’s last visit. A huge, semicircular room dominated by a raised platform on which the King and Queen sat. Just below this platform was an inset seat and podium for the Speaker, who was expected to run the actual session and ensure that protocol was followed. Surrounding the platform in tiers were over three hundred seats, each one filled by a man or woman representing a region of Matria Prime’s. An additional hundred seats were empty, having once been occupied by the representatives of colonies and space habitats. At the very rear of the room a long, curved gallery, separated by a window but connected to the chamber’s sound system, was set aside for observers.
“First matter,” the Matrian House Speaker said formally, standing to address the gathering, “Is the matter of the Starfleet trespass in Old Matronus,”
“The matter is on the floor,” Anselia said, using the same formal tone, “Discussion?”
A number of hands went up.
“The Council recognizes Governor Kesthen of Jentar District,” the Speaker said.
A young-looking man with dark hair stood. A small, automated camera descended from the ceiling, hovering in front of him and transmitting his image to a large screen behind the King and Queen and to anybody tuned in to the Matrian Grand Council channel.
“My fellow Matrians,” he said, “Given that we invited Starfleet to our planet and given that we voted to request their aid in learning about our history, I fail to see the issue,”
A chorus of cheers and boos rose from all sides of the chamber.
“The Council recognizes Governess Laurette of K’Tari District, Leader of the Opposition” the Speaker said.
“Why is that woman still a member of the government?” Stafford asked, “She, like, pulled your entire civilization off track!”
“Mistress, I’m sorry, Governess Laurette still has many supporters,” Kendry said gesturing to the Matrians (mostly women) gathered around the opposition leader, “Leaving her out of our new government would have created major problems,”
“Crap,” Stafford muttered.
“Old Matronus was one of the last relics of the Matrian Empire,” Laurette was declaring sharply, “And it has been destroyed due to the actions of Starfleet!”
“What the hell?” Stafford snapped, “What are they talking about? We didn’t destroy anything of yours! Um, recently, anyway.”
Up on the screen video imagery appeared, showing a huge chunk of space debris. In fact, it happened to be the very piece that Jeffery, Valtaic and Fifebee had explored in the hopes of finding information on Matria’s past. As they watched, Qu’eh torpedos impacted the debris, destroying it.
“The Council recognizes Governor Denethi of Derp District,”
A tall, blond man stood.
“Point of Fact,” he said, “No concrete evidence exists that the object in question was in fact Old Matronus.”
“Seconded!” shouted another male from the side.
“Objection!” cried Laurette.
“The Council has not recognized the Governor of K’Tari District!” the Speaker shouted, “Point of Fact is sustained. Governor Hends of Yutule Distruct now has the floor!”
Another man stood.
“Another Point of Fact,” he said, “The object in question was destroyed by a Qu’eh attack, not by Starfleet,”
“Sustained! The Governor of-“
As the Matrians debated, Stafford turned back to Kendy. He was somewhat surprised to see that the young Matrian was staring intently down into the chamber.
“What are they on about?” he asked.
“Hmm? Oh. I’m sorry, Captain.” She turned back to face him. “As you may know, one of the events that triggered the Gender Wars was the destruction of a major city by males using a weapon of mass destruction, a vast explosion that devastated the entire city.”
“Yes, I remember that,” Wowryk said, “Barbaric,”
“Well, one of the first things we did after the Reawakening was to scan each of our cities,” Kendy said, “Both those that had been restored by the men, and those that remained in ruins.”
“Let me guess,” Stafford said, the facts starting to come together, “You didn’t find any that were destroyed that way, did you?”
“We didn’t,” Kendy admitted, “We found some that were destroyed by convention weapons and some that were destroyed by artificial natural disasters,”
“What?” Wowryk asked, “How can you have-“
“Destruction of a dam, causing the city to flood,” Kendy explained, “Or use of weather manipulation technology to create tsunami or tornadoes,”
“Geez,” Stafford winced.
“Our ancestors were very creative in their war,” Kendy said.
“Yeah, no shit,” Wowryk muttered, remembering Dreamland and the Matrian Dream Machines.
“When we started cataloguing the debris in orbit of our planet, we found the remains of what might have been a very large orbital habitat. It was suggested that the ‘city’ that was destroyed may not have been on the surface of Matria Prime, but in orbit of it,”
“And it just so happens that we’ve learned that the object, orbital habitat, space station, city, whatever, was destroyed by a computer virus that caused its reactor to overload,” Stafford said, rolling his eyes, “Oh, great,”
“As you can see,” Kendy said, gesturing to the bickering councilors below, “this is a very sore point between the men and women of Matria. Destroying that city, wherever it was, sparked the Gender Wars.”
“Why do they keep calling it ‘Old Matronus’,” Wowryk asked.
“Just rumours and folklore. Some of those were in stasis since the war tell stories about the city destroyed by the men. The details are very fuzzy, of course, but they described it as the greatest city of Matria. Would you not make your greatest city your capital?”
“What a mess,” Stafford observed.
Down in the floor, the discussion had finally reached the point where it could be put to a vote.
“Those in favour of lodging a formal protest with the Federation over the destruction of the orbital object?” the Speaker asked.
Many of the councillors raised their hands, fists clenched.
Again, many councillors raised their hands, this time with their palms up.
“The motion fails. Next matter of business, the relocation of workers to assist with the restoration of ship construction facilities…”
“Just a minute,”
Fifebee was walking through a cramped access corridor deep in Silverado’s primary computer core. The computer had told her Jeffery was somewhere in the core, but actually locating him was proving to be something of a problem.
“Mr. Jeffery,” she said again, “I need your help!”
“Ah said just a minute!”
This time, Fifebee’s audio subroutines were able to identify the source of the muffled voice. On a crawlway above her, she spotted Jeffery’s legs sticking out from an access hatch, tools, cables and circuitry scattered all around.
“What are you doing, Simon?” she asked, locating and moving towards the nearest access ladder.
“Just a few scans,” he replied.
Fifebee pulled herself to his level, then peered into the cramped access space. Buried to his waist in the core, Jeffery had an engineering tricorder in one hand and a medical tricorder in the other. He was running one then the other over a series of bio-neural gel-packs. The gel-packs were a relatively new Starfleet technology, integrating actual lab-cultured brain tissue into the computer system. Most of Silverado was far too old to use the gel-packs, but her computer core was less than four years old. It had in fact been the combination of new hardware, old software and repeated exposure to the Matrian Spatial Interphase Devices that had caused Sylvia to become self-aware.
“What are you doing?” Fifebee asked again.
Jeffery sighed, setting down one of the tricorders and tapping at the other.
“Ah’m tryin’ to see if any of these gel-packs show the same stress-readings we get from Sylvia’s,”
“I see,” Fifebee said, “And do you know how many gel-packs are in this computer core?”
“Two thousand, three hundred and ninety-four,” Jeffery said immediately.
“Which, at this rate, will take you three point four months to scan,” Fifebee said.
“Somebody’s gotta do it,” Jeffery replied.
“Let somebody else do it,” Fifebee replied, “I need your help analyzing the data we recovered,”
“We’ve been through it already,” Jeffery said, picking up a small med-scanner and running it over the nearest gel-pack, “There’s nothin’,”
“I don’t agree,” Fifebee said, “I think-“
“Fifebee, Ah’m busy,” Jeffery cut her off, “Ah already lost enough time, playin’ sports, tinkerin’ with those damned Matrian warp reactors and havin’ dinner with Noel. Ah have to work on this!”
“You and Wowryk socialized in an intimate setting?” Fifebee asked, her curiosity and gossip subroutines revving into overdrive,”
“Go away!” Jeffery snapped, picking up a small neural probe and jabbing it into the gel-pack with a bit too much force. The probe punctured the casing, a jet of blue gel and grayish neural matter spewing over Jeffery’s hands. He cursed loudly.
Put off by Jeffery’s uncharacteristic rudeness, Fifebee complied. She would have one of the Nicondii assist her.
Wowryk had fallen asleep. She’d sat in a comfortable chair next to the observational gallery windows. Sitting had led to leaning, then to drooping, then to a state of complete unconsciousness. Stafford couldn’t blame her; she’d been really stressed out since the Qu’Eh attack. So he had Kendy bring up a pillow and blanket and had pointedly ignored her annoyed observation that Wowryk wouldn’t learn very much if that was her idea of ‘observing’.
Stafford, on the other hand, was completely intent on the council chamber.
So far, Governess Laurette and other opposition members had tabled five motions that called for protests or formal complaints against Starfleet or Silverado. All of the motions had failed, most of her accusations had been disproved with the simple application of facts. Silverado hadn’t invited the Qu’Eh after all, how could they be responsible for the attack? Yes, Stafford and his crew had destroyed several Matrian ships in the past but they’d already been pardoned for that. No, the government would not rescind the pardon. Stafford had finally commed Ambassador Owens and asked him to come up to the gallery.
“What the hell is going on down there?” Stafford demanded once Owens had arrived.
“I don’t have a clue,” Owens said, looking as perplexed as Stafford felt, his dislike of the Starfleet captain forgotten in the face of this new crisis, “The Opposition has been very co-operative up to this point. The motion to apply for Federation membership was almost unanimous!”
“Well they don’t seem to like us very much now,” Stafford observed, “And considering we just helped save their planet from an invasion, I would think they’d show a bit of gratitude! We took loses of our own, you know!”
“Queen Anselia and King Hektor issued a public statement of thanks the day after the attack,” Owens reminded him, “No, something strange is happening.”
“At least all of Laurette’s motions are failing,” Stafford said.
Owens frowned, sinking deep into thought.
“Maybe,” he said, “But I thought Laurette was smart enough to recognize when her motions weren’t likely to pass. It’s not like her to waste time like this,”
After another hour of motions, debates, Points of Fact, Points of Order and Points of Decorum, the Matrian Council ended its session, retiring to the reception hall for refreshments. Stafford found Queen Anselia seated at the head table, surrounded by councillors.
“We hope you found that…educational,” Anselia said tiredly to Stafford.
“It was interesting,” Stafford replied politely, “Although I don’t understand everything that happened,”
“Laurette tried to make trouble, that’s what happened,” one of the male councilors said, “And we thought she’d finally reformed!”
“Next thing you know, she’ll be calling for the de-evolution of the males again,” another male snorted.
“De-evolution?” Stafford asked.
“Some of the Opposition members have gone on record as believing that our society would be more stable if we reversed the genetic engineering used on the men,” Anselia explained.
“Yes, like making us all drooling morons again will help,” the male councillor said, flicking one wrist in a manner that reminded Stafford of Jall.
“Well, the changes are what caused the Gender War in the first place, right?” Wowryk asked.
Both men glared at her.
“Sorry,” she muttered.
“Stupid mistakes were made,” the second man said firmly, “on both sides! The women refused to let us take part in the government, and the men decided violence was the way to change their minds. Both genders behaved like barbarians, and tampering with ourselves again isn’t going to help!”
“You don’t have to convince us, Jekril,” Anselia said tiredly, as though she’d heard the same argument dozens of times. (She had.) “It’s a moot point anyway, the technology used was lost decades ago.” She sighed, then turned to Stafford. “It’s probably a good thing the Qu’Eh destroyed what was left of that habitat. If it really was Old Matronus, who knows what terrible secrets it might have held,”
“Er, right,” Stafford swallowed.
“Fifebee to Stafford,”
Ohhh no, Stafford thought to himself. Please, no.
“Er, Fifebee, maybe you should wait-“
“I’ve found something! In the data we recovered!”
“Ugh,” Stafford groaned, “I’ll be right up,”
The Matrians were looking at him in a combination of surprise, shock and horror.
“How did you do that?” one of the men demanded, “We just said-“
“It’s amazing!” another said.
“Seems to happen to us all the time,” Stafford grumbled, getting to his feet.
Stafford, Anselia and Hektor beamed up to the ship and immediately joined Fifebee in the science lab.
“Fifebee,” Stafford said at once, “I don’t know if we should really be messing with this stuff. There have been a few, um, political developments, and it turns out that maybe-“
“It’s too late,” Anselia said, cutting him off. “By now, somebody will have told Laurette that something has been discovered. If we try to turn around and deny it, it will only cause more problems.” She turned to Fifebee, “What have you found?”
Fifebee tapped a panel. On her display screen, a table of data appeared.
“This is a database of Matrian cities, colonies, space stations and starships, along with their locations, status, capabilities, populations, etc.” she said, “As you can see, many of the cities are still in ruins and most of the ships have been destroyed,”
“Yes, we maintained this listing in Dreamland and after the Reawakening,” Anselia said.
“It has been tampered with,” Fifebee said. She tapped her panel again and the screen split, another list appearing beside the first one. This list was obviously badly corrupted; junk characters littered the screen, many entries were missing data and dozens of entries were missing all together.
“This is a similar listing that we recovered from the wreckage,” Fifebee said, “As you can see, it’s badly damaged. I was able to compare it to the current listing and recover much of the data,”
She tapped her panel again. The second list abruptly changed, the scatters of random characters coalescing into coherent data. Names, locations, statistics. Stafford immediately saw huge differences between the two.
“The old list is bigger,” he said.
“Yes,” Fifebee said, “Even after I identify all items from the current listing on the old listing, there are dozens of entries that remain. This indicates that the Old Matrian Empire was considerably larger than we originally estimated.”
“How much larger?” Anselia asked, staring intently at the screen.
“We have no way of determining which of these entries were ships, colonies or space stations,” Fifebee said, “Or their relative sizes. And there is more,”
She brought up a listing of settlements on Matria Prime.
“I have compared the current listing for Matria Prime with the one we recovered. I have found several interesting discrepancies.”
“Like what?” Stafford asked, his mouth going dry.
“The city currently designated ‘Matronus’ is listed on the old record as being named ‘Petran’. It is also listed as being much smaller. I suspect that it was made the capital city after the destruction of the previous capital, which you refer to as ‘Old Matronus’, and subsequently grew.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” Stafford said.
“And here is the entry for Matronus on the old listing,” Fifebee said, tapping her panel. An image appeared on the screen.
“Unbelievable,” Anselia gasped.
“Amazing,” Hektor exclaimed.
“Shit,” Stafford groaned, “Senior staff, report to the conference lounge. NOW!”
The object on the screen was clearly an orbital habitat.
And it was huge.
“I don’t understand,” Fifebee said to Stafford as Anelia and Hektor discussed the finding, a mixture of amazement and fear in their voices, “Why are you not pleased? We have made an important discovery about Matria’s past!” They had relocated to Silverado’s conference lounge, directly behind the bridge.
“How does this kind of thing keep happening to us?” Stafford asked, kicking the wall, “Fifebee, the Matrians are already on the verge of a full argument over who’s fault the Gender War was and whether the engineering on the men should be reversed! We’d just said, ten seconds before you commed me, that if that orbital thingy really was a major Old Matrian city, maybe it was better off destroyed. The Universe hates us!”
“But if the past was dangerous, why did they request our help in recovering it?”
“Because,” Anselia said, joining into the conversation, “Dangerous or not, the past is important. This discovery will confirm many of our theories and suspicions about Old Matronus, but we do not think it will have much of an impact,”
“Are you kidding?” Jall asked, standing next to the display, “This habitat, or city, or whatever, it’s awesome! If I’d found out that somebody on my planet had destroyed it, I’d want to kick their asses into next week!”
Stafford bit the inside of his lip, avoiding the obvious ‘ass’ jokes.
“It is magnificent,” Fifebee agreed.
“And big!” Jall added, “I mean, I’ve seen bigger, but damn!”
Stafford bit down harder, avoiding the obvious ‘size’ jokes.
The image suddenly vanished.
“Oops,” Fifebee said, “The data chip slipped out.”
“I hate it when that happens,” Jall complained, “Stick it back in!”
Don’t say it, Stafford thought to himself. Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t…
“AAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!” Stafford screamed.
Everybody spun to face him.
“What is it?” Yanick asked.
“I bit the inside of my lip too hard,” Stafford complained, wiping blood off of his mouth. More spilled out of the deep cut, dripping onto the rug.
“I think this discovery will cause more problems than you realize,” Valtaic said, looking intently at a padd, “This listing, I mean.”
“How so?” Hektor asked.
Valtiac transferred his padd display to the viewscreen.
“I have been comparing the list of settlements on Matria Prime with those in the old listing,” he said. A list of names and statistics appeared on the viewscreen. One entry started flashing. “One of the settlements listed does not appear on your current list,”
“It was probably destroyed during the war,” Anselia said.
“No,” Valtaic said, “Those are accounted for on your listing.”
“Let me see that!” Fifebee demanded. She tapped for several minutes.
“I was able to recover this list by comparing the data recovered form the old core with your current database,” she explained to the Matrian rulers, “We know the current data has been tampered with, but I found enough similarities to perform a reconstruction. The reason why this entry is not on your current listing is because it was purposefully deleted or excluded.”
Stafford stared at the flashing entry. There was no location listed, no population, and no statistics. If such things had been included before, Fifebee’s efforts had failed to recover them.
“Who would delete it?” Anselia asked.
“I think the more important question,” T’Parief grumbled from his seat, “Is whether or not the person who performed the deletion is still alive. And if they are, why have they not informed the reconstruction teams of this additional settlement?”
“There can’t be another city down there,” Hektor said, “Our scans of our planet would have detected it. Even it was in ruins, or buried, or flooded.”
“Maybe it is not a city,” T’Parief persisted, “Perhaps it is a military establishment,”
“That would make it smaller than a city,” Jall said, “Fewer people might have known about it to begin with, and it would be easier to hide,”
“If that’s true,” Anselia said, “than whoever deleted it from our records is probably keeping it secret for a reason,”
“And who do we think is responsible for most of the tampering?” Stafford asked.
“Governess Laurette is the obvious suspect,” Anselia said, “But it cannot be proven. She has denied doing so, and our memories prior to the destruction of the Dream Nexus are unreliable at best,”
“So she may not even remember deleting it,” Jall said, “Or even what it is,”
“She might not,” Stafford said, “But she might,”
“So what do we do?” Yanick asked.
“Easy,” Stafford sighed, “we find out what it is before she does,”
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58845.3:
“Things just keep going from bad to worse. I swear, if there is a being that created this universe, it hates us. He, she, it…whatever. We’re despised.”
“The political situation on Matria Prime is getting a lot rockier than somebody, not mentioning any names here, Admiral, led me to believe. Well, OK, that’s not really fair. The council was doing just peachy until the Qu’Eh blew up an empty piece of space junk, which as it turns out used to part of some grand and glorious Matrian orbital city. Even better, my crew just had to go and discover that this grand and glorious Matrian thingamajig was the city destroyed by the Matrian men who started the Gender War in the first place! Now the women are furious with the men, the men are on the defensive, and I’m getting a little worried that Matria Prime is on the path to Gender War II.”
“I haven’t forgotten about the people who are blaming themselves for getting us into this mess, even though I keep telling them it’s not their fault. I’ve been trying to keep Jeffery busy with ship repairs, but he keeps hiding in the computer core. He’s obsessed with finding something that will help Sylvia. I’ve also been trying to keep Wowryk busy with Matrian Council sessions, but she keeps running back to Sickbay to check on Sylvia. I appreciate their efforts, I really do. I miss Sylvia’s, er, unique input, and I want her back! But she’s a tough girl. I know she’ll pull through.”
“Jeffery! Where the hell are you?” Stafford called, shouting into the deep recesses of the computer core.
“Over here,” a muffled voice came from around the corner. Stafford turned to follow it, promptly tripping over a pair of legs sticking out of an access hatch.
“Any luck?” Stafford asked.
“Nay,” Jeffery said, his hand appearing momentarily to seize a piece of equipment Stafford didn’t recognize, “But it’s a matter of time,”
“What are you looking for anyway?”
“Whatever it was that shocked Sylvia had to go through other parts of the computer core,” Jeffery said, “If Ah can find a similarly affected gel-pack, Noel can use it in her research,”
“Noel can, huh?” Stafford made little air quotes, “I didn’t realize you two were back on a first-name basis.”
“That’s because it’s none of your business!” Jeffery said.
“Hey!” Stafford held up his hands, “Easy there, buddy. I was just asking,”
“Well don’t!” Jeffery said, “What do you want, anyway?”
“Fifebee found something,”
“Whot?” Jeffery’s legs jerked as he tried to sit up, hitting his head on the inside of the access crawlspace, “Bollocks! What did she find? A damaged gel-pack? A problem in one of the computer subroutines?”
“Uh, no,” Stafford, “She’s been searching for anomalies down on the planet. She’s found a few strange energy readings that I think are worth checking out. They barely registered on our scanners, so the Matrians probably missed them completely,”
“Oh. Have fun.”
“I’m sending you down,” Stafford said, rolling his eyes, “You’re leading the away team, with Fifebee and Valtaic.
“I can’t. I’m busy. Besides, ye know what happened the last time the three of us worked together!”
“Fifebee’s the science expert, you’re the engineering expert and Valtaic’s the new guy. If there is some kind of Matrian military outpost or something down there, you three can turn it inside out quicker than anybody else,”
“Send Sage,” Jeffery said, “Oh, and T’Parief. It might be a military outpost, right? They might have anti-intruder systems.”
“Good call,” Stafford nodded, “You leave in an hour.”
“Simon, sending T’Parief is a good call. Sending Sage isn’t. You are going.”
“Look, Chris,” Jeffery wormed his way out of the access hatch and stood facing Stafford, “Ah can find something here to help her, just give me another day or two,”
“Simon, I don’t know if you’ve watched the news lately, but things are heating up down on Matria. Did you know that there were ‘Feminine Superiority’ demonstrations in the capitol this morning? This can be a real problem when it comes to their application for membership! Ambassador Owens is in a panic! And if the Qu’Eh show up again, we’re going to need every bit of help we can get!” Stafford put his hands on his hips, “I miss Sylvia too, but if we get blown to pieces, that’s not going to help her!”
“Would ye be willing to stick her on the back burner this easily if she was yer real mum?” Jeffery demanded.
“Don’t start with that again!” Stafford snapped, “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be trying to help her! I’m saying that she’s probably going to make it on her own, and that we have bigger things we need to take care of!”
“That’s cold, Chris!” Jeffery said, shaking a hydrospanner accusingly in Stafford’s direction.
“Do you think Sylvia would want you spending all your time buried in the computer core, running on a wild goose chase, while you could be doing something that could help the entire crew, maybe even a whole planet?” Stafford demanded, “Do you think she’d want you to put her above all those people?”
Jeffery was silent.
“You leave in an hour,” Stafford said. He turned, and left.
“Yanick, mix me a drink,” Jall said, walking through the doors to Yanick’s quarters and plopping down on the couch.
“Huh?” Yanick looked up from the table, where she was working on a jigsaw puzzle. (Jall didn’t have the heart to tell her half of the pieces were upside down.)
“Drink. Now.” Jall opened his mouth and pointed in.
“Why don’t you, like, go to Unbalanced Equations, or The RoughHouse?” Yanick asked, trying to force two pieces together.
“Because Anselia will find me there!” Jall said, “She’s been coming up to the ship at least once a day to keep herself in the loop, and she keeps tracking me down! I swear, she tried to stick her tongue in my ear yesterday!”
“I thought you and Chris were going to tell Anselia that you were more of a ‘man’s man’.” Yanick said.
“Stafford was,” Jall said, “But then the shit hit the fan and he went on his all-female, all-Matrian sex spree and the whole thing just slipped his mind,”
“So you say something,” Yanick shrugged. She had stepped over to a storage cabinet and had started mixing a real alcoholic drink.
“Right,” Jall sighed, “Tell the world ruler that you’re not interested in her. She’d probably get all emotional!”
“No, probably not,” Yanick said. She finished mixing the drink and handed it to Jall.
“Please,” Jall said, “If you were chasing some guy, and he told you to buzz off, you’d be heartbroken,”
“Well, maybe,” Yanick admitted, “But haven’t you noticed that the Matrians don’t really do things the conventional way?”
Jall cocked his head, then downed the rest of his drink.
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” Yanick said, getting up to mix him two more, “I mean, everyone has their own likes. But what I’ve seen the Matrian women are, like, more aggressive and chase after men, while the Matrian men, like, prefer getting chased. The women wine and dine the men, bringing them flowers and all that. Also, did you notice how totally into the sports the Matrian women were? That’s usually more of a man thing, right?”
“Soo…they’ve got their gender roles a bit confused?”
“Gender roles are so outdated anyway,” Yanick said, handing him the second drink. “I mean, why else would Anselia think Stafford’s into men? Compared to the Matrian men, he acts the way she’d expect a woman to ask. While you…well, you don’t really fit either role. She probably thinks you act the way you do because that’s how men in our society act,”
Jall downed his second drink and started giggling. Yanick handed him the third.
“So if I tell her I’m not interested, she’s just going to shrug and go chasing after the next pretty face that comes her way?” he laughed.
“Probably,” Yanick said. She suddenly noticed the time. “Hey, aren’t you on duty?”
“Yup!” Jall giggled and threw back the third drink, “I didn’t think you were going to actually give me booze this early in the day!”
“Ohhh,” Yanick giggled, “And I mixed them strong, too!”
The doors hissed open again. This time Stafford stalked through.
“Yanick, mix me something to drink…oh. Jall. I didn’t know you were here,”
Jall stood and ran one finger down the center of Stafford’s chest. Stafford’s face broke into an expression somewhere between surprise and disgust.
“I’m here, big boy!” he said. Yanick fell back on the couch, laughing. It was just way too easy for Jall to get on Stafford’s nerves.
“Quit it!” Stafford snapped, slapping the offending hand away. He looked closer at Jall’s face. “Are you smashed?”
“Yup!” Yanick said, “Sorry Chris, it’s my fault.”
“I don’t even care at this point,” Stafford grumbled. He collapsed onto Yanick’s couch as she went back to her drink stash. Stafford rubbed his hands over his forehead. “Somebody please just tell me this mission is one gigantic bad dream!”
“My bad dreams usually involve farmers,” Jall said.
“I don’t want to know…wait.” Stafford frowned, “Farmers?”
“No fashion sense at all,” Jall said, as though explaining the obvious, “And usually covered in cow shit!”
“HEY!” Yanick objected, handing Stafford a drink, which he promptly swallowed.
“Ugh,” Stafford sighed, “Y’know, when I became a captain, I didn’t realize I’d have so much trouble dealing with my colleagues. “
“Did you have another argument with Jeffery?” Yanick asked, handing Stafford another drink.
“How did you know that?”
“Because you always get like this after fighting with him,” Jall said, still giggling, “It’s almost like you’re a married c-“
“Shut up, Jall,” Stafford and Yanick chorused.
“He has a point though,” Yanick added, “You guys were best buds on your last posting, right? I don’t know about you, but I sure haven’t been seeing that since we were all posted together,”
“Yeah,” Stafford said, “I mean, we sort of had a bit of a falling out when we arrived, because he knew all along about Operation Salvage but didn’t bother to tell me. Then he wound up in the brig, then he left the ship for a while. Then there was the whole business with the Delori, and the First Officer fiasco. We just keep drifting apart.”
“It happens,” Jall said, suddenly serious, “You can be best friends with somebody for ages, then suddenly you realize you haven’t spoken in five years,”
“I don’t want that to happen with me and Jeffery,” Stafford sighed, finishing his second drink, which Yanick promptly replaced, “I don’t want that to happen with any of us,”
“Us?” Yanick and Jall asked.
“All of us,” Stafford sighed, taking another swing, “You, me, Wowryk, T’Parief, Fifebee. Hell, we’ve already lost Noonan. Doesn’t anybody else miss that guy?”
“Yup!” Yanick said, suddenly looking sad.
“I know we get on each other’s nerves sometimes,” Stafford frowned, “Most of the time. But we’re a team! We’ve been living together for over three years!”
“I love you guys!” Yanick sniffed. Suddenly tears started flowing, and she started hugging Jall and Stafford.
The doors hissed open. This time Queen Anselia walked in, her security escourt waiting in the corridor. She stopped as she saw Jall and Stafford seated on the couch, both more than a bit drunk, with Yanick sobbing between the two of them. Her security escort, Ensign Simmons, smirked as the doors closed.
“Are we interrupting something?” she asked.
“Just a little, er, bonding,” Stafford said.
“Ah. We were just going to ask Mr. Jall if he’d care to join us for dinner in Matronus,” Anselia said, eyeing Jall like a slab of meat.
“Oh boy,” Stafford groaned.
Jall stood and faced Anselia.
“Your Majesty, I have a confession to make,” he said, “Things are a bit, um, backwards,”
“With you, that’s an understatement,” Stafford muttered.
“Hey, I’m trying to help you here!” Jall snapped at him, “See, your Majesty, Stafford’s not the one into guys. I am. He’s the one into women. Into you, actually. He’s been totally obsessed with you since we arrived, especially your breasts. I know we should have told you sooner, but we weren’t really sure how to tell you,”
“Oh,” Anselia looked back and forth between Stafford and Jall. Finally, her eyes focused on Stafford.
“We’ll pick you up at 1900h,” she said firmly, “Wear something sexy,”
With that she turned and left. Simmons gave one last look into the room, smirked again, then followed.
Stafford stared at Jall.
“What? Is it that hard to believe that I’d do something to help you?”
“A bit,” Stafford said, “But I’m mostly trying to figure out how you can keep talking to women about their breasts without getting slapped!”
Still feeling a bit sloshed, Stafford stepped into Transporter Room 1. Ensign Pysternzykz was standing behind the control panel, double checking the beam down coordinates. Valtaic, T’Parief and Fifebee were already waiting on the transporter pads, Fifebee’s holo-relay taking up the larger central pad.
“Ready to go?” Stafford asked.
“As soon as Mr. Jeffery arrives,” Valtaic replied, his energy field flaring slightly in irritation.
“Stop that,” Pysternzykz snapped, his lip curling, “You’re throwing the transition coils out of alignment!”
“And disrupting my holo-relay!” Fifebee added.
“Apologies,” Valtaic said, inclining his head.
The doors hissed open and Jeffery stepped in. He had an engineering kit hanging from one shoulder.
“Ah, good. Yer all here,” he said.
“Glad you’re all good to go,” Stafford said.
“Where are we going again?”
Up on the pad, T’Parief closed his eyes and let out an annoyed breath.
“Fifebee found an area of the planet with some strange energy readings,” Stafford said, “You’re going down to investigate. Your primary mission is to figure out what it is. If it’s some kind of Matrian military installation, your mission is to search it for anything that could help with planetary defence. Your secondary mission is to recover any information you can get on Matrian pre-war society. Preferably something that’s going to help calm things down!”
“Security threats?” T’Parief asked.
“Unknown,” Stafford replied.
“Do the Matrians have any information on that region of the planet?” Valtaic asked.
“Not really. The area is mostly desert. None of the populated Matrian cities are anywhere nearby, but the ruins of a city destroyed during the war are less than fifty kilometers away,” Fifebee explained.
“Maybe check it out if you get the chance,” Stafford suggested.
“Anything else ye’d like while we’re at it? Jeffery asked sarcastically.
“Yes,” Stafford said, keeping his tone serious.
“And what’s that now? The miracle cure to Klingon crabs?”
“Take care of yourselves,” Stafford said. He nodded to his officers, then at Pysternzyks.
“It’s almost been half an hour,” Yanick said.
“They’re not due to check in for another ten minutes,” Stafford replied.
“Jeffery probably found some funky Matrian toy and is just too busy to call us,” Jall said.
“Hmmm,” Wowryk said.
The four of them were in Sickbay, standing around Sylvia’s bio-bed. Not that she was lying on it the way a human would have, but her module was sitting under the bio-sensors. There had still been no change in her condition.
“Jeffery to Stafford,”
“Stafford here!” Stafford slapped his comm-badge, “What’s up, buddy?”
“Did ye realize when ye put me in charge of the away team that T’Parief outranks me?”
“Oops,” Stafford cringed, “I forgot,”
“It does not matter,” T’Parief’s low growl came over the line, “I will follow Mr. Jeffery’s orders, as expected,”
“See? No problem,” Stafford said.
“Oh, and we found an entrance to…something,” Jeffery said.
“There is some kind of dampening field,” Fifebee reported, “But we have found two doors. One is very large, the other is-“
The line was suddenly interrupted by a burst of static.
“Say that again, Fifebee,” Stafford said, “You’re breaking up!”
The line suddenly became clear.
“Mr. Jeffery is opening the door.”
“Fifebee? Be careful!”
“We are in some sort of structure,” Fifebee reported, her voice again filling with static, apparently oblivious to Stafford, “It is… large; possibly…hanger of some kind-“
The unmistakable sound of weapons fire came over the comm-link, which again filled with static.
“Fifebee!” Stafford shouted.
“Return fire!” T’Parief’s voice came over the line, along with the sound of Starfleet phasers. Assorted shouts and cries broke through the static.
“Jeffery!” Stafford yelled, “T’Parief! Report!”
The line went dead.
“Stafford to bridge! Get me the away team!”
There were several seconds of frantic beeping as Lt. Commander Stern tried to hail the away team.
“No response, sir.”
“Pysternzyks to Stafford,”
“Captain, the away team has disappeared from my sensors! Have they been killed in glorious battle?”
Stafford and Jall exchanged worried looks. Yanick gave a small gasp, one hand coming to her mouth. Wowryk quickly put an arm around her.
“I…I don’t know,” Stafford said. Jall just shrugged, his jaw dropping.
“I don’t know,” Stafford repeated softly.