Author: Brendan Chris
Previously on Star Traks: Silverado:
“Hey, isn’t it my turn to do the voice-over?” Jall asked.
Yes, but I decided that I wanted to do it this time.
“You don’t get to do that! It’s my turn! I have a much prettier voice than you, and I’ve been waiting to do a voice-over forever!”
No. I’m doing it.
“Screw off!” Jall said, “OK, folks, so, last time, on Silverado-“
There was a blinding flash of light as one of Silverado’s cobbled-together Matrian reactors overloaded. The reactor exploded, ripping apart the engineering section and detonating the antimatter storage pods. The resulting release of energy vaporized the entire ship, killing everybody aboard instantly, except for Jall who was ejected through the bridge dome to spend several seconds in open space before his life was snuffed out.
Oh, and the explosion also caused a subspace rip that destroyed the entire Matrian star system.
Nobody tells me what to do, bitch!
In his home in Maryland, Alan Decker sat at his computer, shaking his head.
“That kid has already been in the military far too long,” he sighed.
“Something wrong, honey?” Jen asked, looking over his shoulder.
“You know that guy from Canada? He just went nuts and killed off all of his characters,”
“Oh,” Jen looked thoughtful for a moment. “Hey, do you want to go do that thing married couples do?”
“YES!” Alan shouted, jumping to his feet and starting to pull his shirt off over his head, “God, yes! It’s about time!”
“Good.” Jen said, “I’ll get the kids and let them know we’re heading to the mall,”
“Crap,” Alan muttered, pulling his shirt back on and slouching down into his chair, “I knew it was too good to be true. Just hold on. I gotta talk this guy out of blowing the shit out of everybody,”
“Why would he do that anyway?” Jen asked.
“Well,” Alan said, “last time, on Silverado, the crew was still trying to recover from getting their asses kicked by the Qu’Eh and by an Old Matrian computer virus that blew up their warp core and put Sylvia, their sentient computer, into a cybernetic coma. Stafford and Wowryk were dragged down to the planet for some political crap, and found out that all the Matrians were getting their panties tied into knots over this old chunk of space station that was blown up. Then Fifebee had to go and learn that the chunk of space station was actually part of an orbital city, the destruction of which was the big trigger that set off the whole Gender Wars. She also found out there was another settlement, or military installation or who the hell knows what somewhere down on the planet. She managed to track down some funny readings, but when Valtaic, Jeffery, T’Parief and Fifebee went down to investigate, Silverado lost contact with them. Heck, for all anybody on ship knows, they’re dead. Neat, huh sweety? Sweety?”
Alan looked back to find his wife asleep in another chair, drool starting to form at the corner of her delicate mouth.
“No shopping today,” he sighed, “Thank God!”
He turned to his computer, opening his email program and starting a new message.
“Brendan,” he muttered as he wrote, “First off, not liking the new story all that much. Killing off your characters really kills off much chance of your storyline developing, and really turns the rest of your story into anti-climatic crap. So don’t kill them. Oh, and if your wife ever tries to drag you on a shopping trip you don’t want to go on, just start talking about your series. It’ll put her out like a light!”
<Insert funky re-wind sound effects here>
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58845.5:
“No, seriously, did anybody else feel that? I could swear we were just in oblivion, and that it tasted like mocha latte and apple-cinnamon scone. And there were these two…things there, and all I can remember thinking is ‘stupid Writers’, over and over again! Nobody? C’mon! Hey, Stern, put away the frickin’ butterfly net, I am not crazy! I’m telling you, oblivion tastes like apple-cinnamon scone! It’s all the Writers! The stupid Writers!”
“Is he going to be OK?” Jall asked Wowryk as they watched Nurse Kerry administering to the now-sedated Captain Stafford. Stern had dragged him through the doors to Sickbay, still raving about ‘the Writers’ and mocha lattes.
“He’s over-stressed,” Yanick said, looking worriedly at the unconscious man, “He’s been trying to deal with this Matrian thing, Jeffery and Wowryk, and now our away team’s gone missing!”
“Wait, why is he trying to ‘deal’ with us?” Wowryk demanded.
“Y’know,” Yanick said, her eyes tearing up again, “Because you were in charge of the ship when the Qu’Eh attacked, which I’m REALLY sorry about, but you were the senior officer and it was the right thing to do, and you know, the Qu’Eh like, totally screwed things up here, and lots of Matrians on the space station died, and you buried yourself down here trying to help Sylvia, and Chris was all worried that you were beating yourself up over something that wasn’t even your fault, but he wasn’t sure how to help you, but wanted to, and Jeffery’s been obsessed with the computer core because he thinks that when he uploaded the data he caused the virus thingy to blow up the warp core and put Sylvia in a coma, so he’s-“
She stopped, taking deep breaths.
“Just hold on a sec,” she gasped, holding up one hand “I need to catch my breath,”
“It’s OK, Trish,” Jall said, patting her on the back, “I think Wowryk gets the picture,”
“It’s sweet of him to care,” Wowryk said, “I didn’t realize he was stressing himself out so much over me,”
“Well, it’s not just you,” Yanick started to say, before Jall clamped a hand over her mouth.
Wowryk stepped into her office and emerged with a large book in one hand.
“What are you doing?” Jall asked.
“I’m going to say a prayer for him,” Wowryk said casually.
“Oh,” Jall wasn’t sure what to say, “We’ll, uh, leave you to it.”
“Oh, Noel?” Yanick broke free of Jall’s grasp.
“Say one for the guys down on the planet too, OK?”
Jeffery materialized on the surface of Matria Prime, Valtaic, Fifebee, T’Parief and Fifebee’s holo-relay all materializing around him. He took a deep breath of what he expected to be fresh air, then coughed as arid, desert dust caught in his throat.
“Who the hell puts a…a thing…in the middle of the bleedin’ desert?” he demanded, his one cough leading to a full coughing fit.
“Area 51 was in a desert, wasn’t it?” Fifebee commented. She was actually enjoying this environment. Compared to the other planets she’d visited, the Matrian desert was pleasantly free of insects or other annoying creatures.
“I will be cleaning dust out of my scales for days,” T’Parief complained.
“You all need to stop whining so we can do our jobs,” Valtaic said with his customary bluntness. He casually increased the energy field emitted by his body, causing his teammates’ hair to stand on end, but also repelling most of the blowing sand and dust.
“Neat trick,” Jeffery commented.
“Excuse me,” Fifebee said, her image flickering slightly as she pulled her holo-relay further from Valtaic.
“I am a laugh riot at parties,” Valtaic said flatly.
“Ah just bet,” Jeffery said. He turned to Fifebee, “So what are we looking for, anyway?”
“That, I believe,” she pointed.
The away team was standing in the middle of an empty, near featureless desert. Sand dunes rolled under the hot, oppressive sun. Even though Matria Prime had a very low axial tilt and therefore no real seasons, it still had a broad range of climates. And the desert was definitely hot, dry and sandy. Not a scrap of vegetation could be seen, just endless rolling sand dunes.
To the east however, the dunes changed slightly. Oh, they were still sand dunes, but they rose in a huge, rounded hill. The geological subroutines in Fifebee’s program suspected that there was a lava dome, or some other formation of solid rock that the dunes had covered. Either way, it resulted in a very, very, very big hill. Heck, it was almost a sand dune mountain!
In the side of which, there was some kind of structure.
It had a military look all right. It almost looked like somebody had taken one of Waystation’s upper docking bays and parked it in the side of a sandy mountain. There was a huge, articulated hanger door surrounded by a solid-looking overhang. Judging from the doors, the hanger or docking bay or whatever it was could easily accommodate the Matrian patrol ships and scouts that they’d seen so far.
“That’s big,” Jeffery observed.
“It is also the source of the energy readings I found,” Fifebee said. She was tapping at her tricorder as she walked closer to the structure, the rest of the team following her, “Although I was expecting something bigger,”
“Bigger?” T’Parief asked.
“There is a lot of energy being produced,” Fifebee said, “And something is interfering with my tricorder. Possibly a dampening field. But if that’s the case, then there is even more energy being produced here than I originally calculated,”
As they neared the giant door, Jeffery was able to make out a smaller, airlock-sized entrance next to the hanger-sized door.
“I suggest we call the Hazardous Team down here at once,” T’Parief said.
“I doubt we need them,” Fifebee said, “This place has probably been abandoned since the Gender Wars,”
“Ah think she’s right,” Jeffery said, “And I’m in command here…” his voice trailed off. He turned to face T’Parief, “Wait, if ye got promoted to Commander, why am Ah in charge of this mission?”
“Because the captain said so,” T’Parief rumbled.
“Oy,” Jeffery sighed, tapping his comm-badge, “Jeffery to Stafford,”
“Stafford here!” Stafford’s voice came over the channel, “What’s up, buddy?”
“Did ye realize when ye put me in charge of the away team that T’Parief outranks me?”
“Oops,” Stafford said, “I forgot,”
“It does not matter,” T’Parief’s said, “I will follow Mr. Jeffery’s orders, as expected,”
“See? No problem,” Stafford said.
“Oh, and we found an entrance to…something,” Jeffery said. They were approaching the smaller door. He spotted a control panel next to it, labelled in Matrian characters. Jeffery of course had no idea what the symbols meant, so he simply started tapping away randomly at this tricorder, a trick an old buddy of his had shown him.
“‘Something’?” Stafford was saying.
“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..again, Fifebee,” Stafford said, “You’re…up!”
“No,” Fifebee said patiently, “You are the one that is breaking up,”
As Jeffery continued his key punching, an image of the control panel suddenly appeared on his tricorder screen. English letters were now super-imposed over the Matrian characters. He quickly located the ‘open’ button and pressed it. With a hiss, the door slid open. T’Parief was immediately there, pushing Jeffery to the side and pointing his phaser into the dark opening.
“Mr. Jeffery is opening the door.” Fifebee reported.
“Fifebee?” Stafford called, his voice breaking up as static overwhelmed the channel, “Be careful!”
With T’Parief leading the way, the away team slowly filed into the airlock. With the dust behind them, Valtaic let his energy field collapse. As the outer door closed and the inner door opened, they found themselves looking out into a vast chamber. The ceiling was at least six levels above them; huge luminpanels bathed the chamber in a soft reddish-white light. There were several half-decks filling the empty space, on alternating sides of what Jeffry was now positive was a hanger bay. Each one took up half of the total floor space and had a graceful, filigree railing around the inner edge. Judging from the height and width, Jeffery was sure the ‘shelves’ had been built to accommodate Matrian scout ships. Up on one side, a windowed structure that had to be a control booth clung to the bulkhead. The whole thing was done up in colours of soft blue and red, which to Jeffery looked downright silly, especially with the bleedin’ red accent lighting.
Wait. If nobody had been here in over a century, why were the lights on?
“We are in some sort of structure,” Fifebee reported, “It is very large; possibly a Matrian hanger of some kind-“
T’Parief’s arm shot out, sending Jeffery sprawling to the deck as an energy beam speared through the space where his head had been. He and Valtaic fired back, shooting in the general direction of their assailant. They ran for the nearest cover: a support beam directly ahead of them. Fifebee gave her holo-relay a shove, the device bobbing on its antigravs as it glided along the other wall.
“Return fire!” T’Parief’s shouted. There were now several still unseen assailants; energy beams were coming in from at least four different directions. And they were moving closer. There was a shriek of static from Jeffery’s comm-badge before the channel went dead. Whatever was interfering with the signal, it became worse as they moved deeper into the installation.
Jeffery popped out from behind his hiding place and fired his hand phaser. A startled shout told him that he’d hit his mark, but another beam struck him in the side, sending him toppling to the deck.
“Jeffery!” Valtaic snapped, dropping to check the status of the fallen officer.
“Get back!” T’Parief snarled.
Valtaic looked across the bay just in time to see a shadowy figure raising a weapon. He clenched his fists, pulsing his energy field as hard as he could. The shadowy figure fired, the energy blast hitting him full in the chest. He fell back, tingling with the shock, but unhurt.
A pair of doors to their right hissed open, several energy blasts coming out and catching both T’Parief and Fifebee off-guard. T’Parief was hit immediately, Fifebee’s phaser was shot out of her hand. Deciding that getting up would be a bad idea, Valtaic froze; lying sprawled back on the deck.
“Don’t move, hologram!” the lead figure snapped, “Any tricks and your friends die!”
Hmmm, Valtaic thought to himself, So Jeffery and T’Parief were only stunned. Good to know.
“You know who I am,” Fifebee said. It was a statement, not a question.
“Everybody on Matria knows who you are,” the lead figure said, coming into the light. To Valtaic’s surprise, it was a male. He was tall for a Matrian man, about six feet or so, and solidly built. Valtaic had read in Silverado’s computer records that the Matrian men were very healthy and fit, (if on the slim and wiry side) on account of years of physical labour, but he had noticed since arriving on Matria that most had ‘let themselves go’. This one, evidently, had not.
“I’m sure there are a dozen tricks you could pull,” he went on, “Make a hundred copies of yourself. Make yourself fifty feet tall. I doubt I can hurt you; according to the information I have you aren’t really even here, your program is still on Silverado. I warn you though, any attempt to warn your crew, return to your ship, or do anything to interfere with my mission and I will kill your friends.”
“I may not have a choice,” Fifebee said calmly, promptly abandoning the message she had been about to send to Silverado’s tactical console, “Something here is interfering with communications. If my holo-relay loses contact with the ship, my program will revert to Silverado’s internal holoprojectors immediately. And you may want to work on some of those anger issues. Maybe over a nice cup of tea and some cookies?” Fifebee quickly adjusted her personality database subroutines. No point in being nice to the bad guy.
“Don’t worry, we’re prepared to handle you,” the man said, ignoring the offer of tea. He had been joined now by several other Matrians, mostly women, “We brought this along,”
They pushed in an anti-grav platform. On it was a Federation computer core. It was orders of magnitude smaller than the core on Silverado, probably given to the Matrians by Ambassador Owens and the USS Wasagaming to help with something or other.
“Download your program into this core. Now,” the Matrian ordered.
Fifebee considered arguing, then remembered that several weapons were pointed at the unconscious forms of Valtaic, T’Parief and Jeffery. She initiated a command-level interface with Silverado’s computer and, using the subspace transceiver on her holo-relay as a link, transferred her program to the smaller core.
One of the Matrians standing next to the core consulted the display, then nodded. Another ran a cable between the core and her holo-relay while a third reached up and deactivated the subspace transceiver. She was now completely cut-off from Silverado.
Down on the floor, Valtaic inwardly cursed.
“Good,” the male Matrian smile, “By the way, I’m Gragun, representing the Females Against Male Integration and for Negative Evolution.”
“F.A.M.I.N.E?” Fifebee asked, lifting an eyebrow.
“We want to immediately restore the natural order of things to Matria,” one of the women said, “And you are going to help us!”
“Excuse me, may I help…oh!” Wowryk almost took half a step back in surprise, “Queen Anselia! Good day, your Majesty. What brings you to Sickbay?”
“We are looking for Captain Stafford,” Anselia said, smiling politely at Wowryk. She was standing at the entrance to Sickbay wearing a beautiful black suit. She had a giant bouquet of flowers held in one arm. “He was supposed to ready for me to pick him up at his quarters half an hour ago,”
“Oh,” Wowryk smiled weakly, “He’s…indisposed.”
“Oh, is he?” Anselia sighed, “Well, we suppose that’s the end of our date then. Figures. What happend to him, anyway?”
“Date?” Wowryk narrowed her eyes, “Exactly how did he get you to agree to go out with him?”
“We asked him out,” Anselia said, “Once we found that Mr. Jall…well. That he doesn’t appreciate the female form,”
“Yes well,” she said, “Believe it or not, he’s occasionally a welcome change, compared to some of these guys who appreciate it too much!”
“What do you mean?”
“Men are horny pigs,” Wowryk snapped, “At least, on most planets they are. I don’t know how it is on your planet, anyway,”
“Pigs? What do you mean?”
Wowryk suddenly realized that she was speaking to the ruler of an entire planet. Anything she said, anything she did, might shape the way the women of Matria dealt with alien men for the next century! She had a responsibility to be truthful, to be honest.
“Guys want sex,” Wowryk said bluntly, “Look at the way Stafford was acting during the sports thing! They want to get into your shield perimeter so they can breach your hull, if you get my meaning. All their fancy romance and courtship and all that bullcrap is just a ploy to get under our pants!”
“Oh really,” Anselia said, “It sounds like you don’t have much use for them,”
“Well, I…” Wowryk trailed off.
“Weren’t you the one who tried to convince us that men weren’t that bad, right before Dreamland shut down? Anselia said, frowning, “We can’t really remember, it’s still hazy. But didn’t you come into Dreamland to rescue the man you loved?”
“Yes,” Wowryk admitted.
“We are guessing you ended up dumping his sorry ass,” Anselia shrugged. She walked over to Stafford’s bio-bed and plunked the flowers into a nearby vase. She started leaving, then turned back to Wowryk.
“On our world, things are different,” she said, “Your ship will only be here for a few months…we certainly don’t plan on anything more than a casual relationship with Captain Stafford,”
“Wha-wha-what?” Wowryk exclaimed.
“We think you need to open your mind a bit, Doctor,” Anselia said, walking out the door.
“Told you it wasn’t just me,” Nurse Kerry said.
Valtaic was still feigning unconsciousness.
A pair of burley, Matrian women had already dragged Jeffery away, then returned with an anti-grav unit for T’Parief. Valtaic was the last to be taken away and, presumably, carted off to a holding cell or locked storage room or something. After delivering their dramatic proclamation (which Valtaic rated four out of ten) they had escorted Fifebee out of the chamber, presumably to someplace where she could ‘help’ them.
Valtaic opened one eye a crack and regarded the Matrian guard standing a few feet away. She had a weapon, he did not. Attacking her would be pointless, unless she came much closer. He turned his attention instead to the mystery they had found.
It was possibly a military installation of some kind. That, or a spaceport. Considering that there was really nothing in the middle of the desert that people would want to visit, the spaceport option was quickly neglected. So he was in the hanger of a Matrian military installation. The installation was underground, either by design or due to a century or two of sand being blown on top of it. The installation was hidden by a dampening field, but Fifebee had been able to locate it once she knew there was something to locate. A group of Matrians had also found the installation, though because nobody had informed Silverado they were probably not part of the Matrian government. Unless the Matrian government was part of the plot. But if so, why would they encourage Silverado to search for the installation?
Once again, he found himself wishing the rest of the galaxy was as upfront as his own people.
The sound of footsteps informed him that the prisoner relocation team had returned for him. He remained as limp as possible as they hoisted him up and started carrying him towards the exit. He very carefully cracked open one eye again. He was being dragged through a corridor, a pleasantly standard one at that. Valtaic was immediately reminded of an apartment he’d stayed in once, with ordinary deck plating, plain paneling on the walls and light figures that were pleasantly functional. He also noticed that he now had only two Matrians to deal with.
His energy field was nearly exhausted; the energy needed to negate that stun blast was almost beyond his ability to produce. But he gathered his strength and pushed every erg of power he had into the network of conductive minerals in his epidermis. There was a sharp CRACK of electricity and the two Matrians holding him cried out, their bodies twitching from the shock as they fell to the deck.
Quickly grabbing their weapons, Valtaic darted for the nearest cross-corridor.
“I fail to see how I can help you,” Fifebee said. She’d been escorted by her captors into the control room overlooking the hanger bay, “I know nothing about this facility, having only just arrived,”
“You’re a Federation scientist,” Gragun said, “It’s your job to figure out things like this.”
“Figure out?” Fifebee repeated, “What do you need me to figure out? This is a Matrian complex. You are Matrians. You undoubtedly know more than I do.”
Gragun snarled a bit.
“Unless, of course, this installation contains technology that dates back to the Old Matrian Empire, which I am almost certain it does,” Fifebee sighed, “In which case, you are almost as clueless as the rest of us as to what it is and how to operate it. The question that remains is who your leader is, and why you suspected I was coming.”
Gragun open his mouth to speak, but Fifebee cut him off.
“Most likely,” she said, “your leader is either Governess Laurette, or somebody with a mindset similar to hers. I suspect that you hoped to have a great deal of time to ponder the mysteries of this place, however your leader was certain that Starfleet, in this case meaning Silverado, would eventually find it. And because I am in charge of all research activates undertaken by Silverado, you knew I would be here eventually. And so you made sure you had a computer system compatible with my program so I could be harnessed for your use,”
“Actually,” Gragun crossed his arms, “We brought the core along to help us with our research. We really had no idea you’d be showing up, but we did a pretty good job of improvising, didn’t we?”
“You know,” Fifebee said, “Had you kept your mouth shut, you would have left me with the impression that all of this was a carefully laid-out, well planned operation,”
“Get to work!” Gragun shouted, “Before I call the Mistress!”
“Oh, very well,” Fifebee sighed. She quickly located a panel and activated the screen. A series of Matrian characters appeared on the screen. “This installation has been locked and can only be unlocked by Watilma or an administrator,” Fifebee translated, “Please enter your password.”
She turned to Gragun.
“What is the password?”
“This is as far as we’ve been able to get,” he admitted.
Jeffery woke up with one hell of a headache. Either he’d gotten into a bit too much scotch the night before, or he’d been stunned.
He opened one eye and looked around. He was in a small, windowless room. Right next to him, T’Parief was also beginning to regain consciousness.
OK, so he’d ether gotten into WAY too much scotch the night before, or they’d both been stunned.
Suddenly he remembered the mission to Matria Prime and the underground hanger bay they’d found.
“That’s a relief,” he sighed. He tapped his comm-badge, only to get a screech of static. Next to him, T’Parief rolled over, groaned and started to pull himself to his feet.
“I guess this means we were not killed in glorious battle,” he said.
“Ye sound disappointed,” Jeffery replied, rubbing his aching head.
“It would have made my parents very happy,”
“Ye must have had a messed up childhood,”
“You have no idea,” T’Parief said, “My father still tracks each kill I make.”
“Does that count the potpourri lizards ye shredded last weekend?”
“We agreed to keep that a secret,” T’Parief grumbled, “Especially from Trish!”
“Right, right,” Jeffery looked around, “So, any idea how we get out of here?”
T’Parief pressed a button next to the door. He was surprised when it hissed open, but not particularly surprised to see two armed Matrians pointing very large weapons at him.
“Good day, ladies,” he nodded politely.
“Good day, pathetic man,” one of the Matrians nodded back.
T’Parief stepped back and allowed the door to close.
“Nothing comes immediately to mind,” he said.
“You have been working for an hour. What progress have you made?” Gragun demanded.
“None,” Fifebee said.
“Do I have to remind you that I’ll kill your friends if you fail?”
“Why couldn’t you have kidnapped Jall?” Fifebee asked, “Then I would not have to care!”
Gragun cocked his weapon.
“Observe carefully,” Fifebee said. She pressed a button on the panel. The system emitted an annoying ‘BEEP!’ She pressed another random key, with the same result. “Do you expect me to simply commune with the computer without using an input device?”
“Isn’t that what holograms do?”
“Ugh,” Fifebee grunted. She pried off an access panel and began examining the circuitry. At least it would look like she was trying.
“Why is your faction so interested in this place?” she asked, “From what I have seen, it is simply an empty hanger. Is there something in the rest of the installation that is worth the trouble?”
“With the computer system locked, we don’t know,” Gragun admitted, “All we’ve been able to find so far is the hanger, a few corridors and a lot of locked doors.”
“Why are you telling her so much?”
“Mistress!” Gragun gasped, immediately bowing his head, “I…I thought that she would be better able to assist us if she-“
“Idiot man,” the Mistress, an attractive-looking dark woman in her mid-thirties, then turned to Fifebee, “I am Mistress Juliani. You know, honey, at least your created did something right when she gave you the image of a woman,”
“Actually,” Fifebee said, “My creator was male,”
“Your society is so strange,” Juliani chuckled. She grew serious. “Lieutenant, because you are a woman, I will be honest with you. My master knows that this is a very important place, a place of great power. There is something here that can change the very course of Matrian society. That is why she worked so hard to find it. What she can’t remember is why it was so important.”
“Let me guess,” Fifebee said dryly, “She thinks there is a great weapon here that will allow her to obliterate her enemies?”
Junliani looked almost sad.
“Oh, sweety. You really don’t understand F.A.M.I.N.E. at all, do you?”
“Considering I’m a hologram, no,” Fifebee said dryly.
“Our goal is to return Matria to a truer, more pure society,” Juliani said, “Where men are men, and women are women. And where women are back in charge. But we’re not idiots! We’re not going to achieve our goals with huge weapons,” she laughed, “That’s what caused most of our problems to begin with! A pack of men with what your people now tell us was a computer virus that turned power sources into massive bombs.”
She walked over to another console, regarding the unchanged message with no small amount of irritation.
“What we need is information. Technology.” She turned back to Fifebee, “What we need is every piece of knowledge and technology the Old Matrians had, so we can leverage that into political power. Surely you’ve noticed how desperate our people are to learn about what the Matrian Empire was like before the Gender Wars.”
“Desperate like Stafford on a Friday night,” Fifebee acknowledged.
“This computer system may contain the only intact records from that time,” Juliani went one, “We really don’t care about what this place was used for, only what it can tell us about our past!”
“If that is the case, why are you not here with the sanction of the Matrian government?”
“Because they want to create a ‘grand and glorious new Matrian Republic’, with equality for all,” Juliani said, “We want to return to the old ways.”
“So you would take away the wisdom and intelligence your ancestors gave your men,”
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Juliani shrugged, “Now get to work!”
Lt. Cmdr. Valtaic was lost.
Unlike males of most other species, he had no trouble admitting it. He had run into a group of Matrian men patrolling the corridors near the hanger bay, and in the ensuing chase he’d become turned around and confused. If he’d had a tricorder, he might have been able to use it to find his way back. On the other hand, the dampening field might have prevented that.
Valtaic was exhausted. His energy field was completely dead; the organ in his chest that produced the necessary energy was drained from his earlier exertions. It had been a long time since he’d been in a similar situation, and he hated how vulnerable it made him feel.
He took a turn in the direction that he thought would lead him back to the hanger, noticing again how strange the Matrian architecture was. The support struts were all gently curved, as were the sidewalls of the corridor. At foot level, long lighting strips provided illumination, matched by lit panels in the ceiling. The red and blue colours used might be soothing and pleasant by Matrian standards, but Valtaic felt like he was walking through a giant artery.
He’d barely made it two steps into the new cross-corridor when he ran face-first into a solid wall. Of course, if his energy field had been up, he would have sensed the barrier before running into it! Actually, why the hell would the Matrians build a corridor that extended a few feet before ending? There were no doors, no control panels and no possible reason for the corridor to end!
Valtaic frowned. He held out one hand, running it slowly against the solid wall he’d encountered. He could feel something in his fingertips, something very faint, but there. He reached his other hand out to touch the side corridor wall. Nothing. He put both hands against the strange wall and focused. He still couldn’t generate an energy field, but he was successful in getting a bit of juice into his fingers.
There was a loud CRACK and he was promptly thrown back from the wall, across the corridor he’d been walking through and against the far bulkhead.
That settled it. That was no wall. It was an energy barrier. Force field, possibly masked by a hologram. Wincing as he climbed to his feet, Valtaic immediately determined that trying to get past the field would be futile in his current state, and that he should continue searching for his colleagues.
Listening carefully for any signs that the Matrians had heard the force field tossing him around, he carefully resumed walking.
Jeffery and T’Parief were still sitting in their cell, contemplating the mysteries of the universe.
“So, how’re things with Trish?” Jeffery asked.
Of course, every man knows that the greatest mystery of the universe is women.
“She remains as beautiful a person as ever,” T’Parief said calmly, “Although I am still learning to cope with the fact that she has little to no killer instinct,”
“Really? Have ye seen what happens when somebody comments on her waistline?”
“Actually, some of our most erotic moments have started that way,”
“Whatever floats yer boat, I guess,” Jeffery shrugged.
“What does that mean?” T’Parief said.
“Hmm? Nothing!” Jeffery said, “Ah was just thinkin’ how, y’know, if Noel had had some kind of erotic thingy like that, we might still be together,”
“What do you mean ‘whatever floats your boat’?” T’Parief insisted.
“Er,” Jeffery was suddenly sure he’d said too much.
There was a soft, repeating ‘snick’ sound as T’Parief unconsciously extended and retracted his claws.
“Look, bud,” Jeffery said quickly, “Ah mean, it’s obvious that the two of ye aren’t anywhere near the same species, right? Ah mean, the rest of us know yer attracted to her personality, and she like yers, and yer muscles, but Ah can’t imagine how she’d get off shagging a giant green lizard! Or why ye’d want to get it on with a dainty little blond thing like her! Ah mean, isn’t there some hot Parian chick just dyin’ to get under yer…uh, scales?”
T’Parief looked at him for a moment, then sighed. It was the single, saddest sound Jeffery had ever heard the giant officer make. His entire body seemed to deflate, from his cranial ridges to his gigantic shoulders and right on down.
“You are right,” he admitted, “I do not even know if she finds me attractive. When I started dating her, I knew I would have to date a woman who was not of my species, but that has changed. And she…I do not know why she stays with me,”
Jeffery was now sitting with his spine as stiff as a board, feeling as uncomfortable as hell. T’Parief wasn’t supposed to have worries and problems! T’Parief was the rock-solid reptile who wasn’t bothered by anything or anybody, except for Jall. And everybody was bothered by Jall. To have this guy admitting these kinds of problems to Jeffery was just…bizarre.
“We have kissed, fondled and otherwise engaged in foreplay, but we have only recently consummated our relationship,” T’Parief went on, “And we have been together for three years. I know that such a thing is almost unheard of in human society.”
“Ye had the…um, problem,” Jeffery said, every muscle in his body clenching.
“Yes, but that has been taken care of,” T’Parief went on forlornly, “Things started very passionately, then cooled. I can only conclude that mating with me was not enjoyable for her,”
Jeffery winced as a very unwelcome mental image started forming.
“And I will admit,” T’Parief was still talking. Why was he still talking, Jeffery wondered, “I have not pushed for it either. I am…concerned that I might…injure her. Klingon and Andorian mating is quite violent, and considering that I possess both fangs and claws. We have found sports equipment to be most useful, but still, it can be very dangerous. “
Jeffery’s eyes glanced over to the doors. Maybe the Matrian guards would come in and torture them, or something.
“There is also the matter of our relative sizes to consider,” T’Parief went on.
“Whoah, whoah,” Jeffery finally said, “That’s just a wee bit too much information!”
First Officer’s Log:
“Life sucks. Then you die, and your lifeless corpse is burned to a crisp in the upper atmosphere of a star,”
“We’ve been scanning the planet for hours now, and we still can’t penetrate whatever dampening field is around the Matrian installation. We haven’t learned anything new, no matter what kind of scans we run on the energy readings. I sent down the Hazardous Team, to see if they could break into the damned place, but the entrances have been sealed shut from the inside. I could always just order them to shoot their way in; a few cutting phasers might do it, but Queen Anselia doesn’t want us shooting at their precious Old Matrian relics, I’m holding off on that until Stafford wakes up. Even if they did get in, they’d probably end up in the same situation as the away team. I just hope they’re only captured and not dead.”
“C’mon, Trish,” Jall said, “This isn’t optional!”
“I don’t wanna go,” Yanick said, sitting on her couch and pouting.
“It’ll do you good,” Jall insisted, grabbing her by her hands and pulling her up, “We’re going to drag Wowryk there, maybe Ensign Grant. Valtaic doesn’t really have any friends on board, but it’s the thought that counts,”
“He made friends with that bird-lady on Waystation,” Yanick sniffed, “He didn’t talk about it, but there were feathers stuck to his uniform for, like, a week afterward.”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Come on,”
“Jall, why are you dragging us for drinks? The captain’s been sedated, Sylvia’s still in a coma and T’Parief and those guys are missing on the planet!”
“Exactly. Life is really shitty.” Jall said, “But we can’t help Stafford, we can’t help Sylvia and the Hazardous team is running scenarios in case we decide to break into that place. There’s nothing for us to do but wait, and that’s the worst part of any crisis.”
Finally giving in, she followed Jall to Unbalanced Equations. They stopped by Sickbay on the way. Wowryk was hovering over Sylvia’s module, medical scanner in one hand. The doctor gave surprisingly little protest when Jall informed her it was time to go for drinks, leading him to conclude that she was coming to realize there really wasn’t anything should could do for the AI.
Shortly after, Jall, Yanick, Wowryk and Grant were seated at one of the table in Unbalanced Equations.
“OK,” Jall said, sipping something fruity, “We’re here because people you care about are missing in action down on the planet, and I don’t think you should be sitting alone in your quarters at a time like this,”
“Uh,” Grant spoke up, “Lieutenant Commander Fifebee and I aren’t ‘together’. We’ve just been fooling around. Besides, she can’t be dead or anything, her program-“
“Her program vanished from the computer shortly after we lost contact with them,” Jall said, “The computer logs show that somebody downloaded it remotely.”
“Then at least somebody is still alive!” Yanick said.
“Huh. Yeah, I guess so,” Jall said.
“If they downloaded her program,” Wowryk said, “That seems to say that they have more interest in capture than in killing,”
“Yes, I, er, thought of that,” Jall said.
“So if they’re probably not dead, why are we having this little feel-good session?” Grant asked.
“Look, even if they’re not dead, which I totally had thought about already, thank you, they’re still MIA,” Jall snapped, “And since we’re talking about Trish’s boyfriend, the closest thing Wowryk’s had to a male friend and the woman Grant is sleeping with, I thought-“
“Actually,” Wowryk said, “I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my time with Simon today,”
“Really?” Yanick asked, “How come?”
“The Matrian Queen said some very interesting things about Matrian society,” Wowryk said.
“Does this have to do with the way their women wear the pants in their relationships?” Grant said, “Cuz that’s totally hot!”
“T’Parief doesn’t like wearing pants,” Yanick said dreamily, “He says his tail always gets in the way, even if there’s one of those little holes for it to come out,”
“I’ve come to the conclusion that Jeffery isn’t the closest thing I’ve had to a male friend,” Wowryk said.
“Really?” Jall asked. This wasn’t really the topic he’d had in mind, but his plan was to distract them from the missing crewmen after all, “Who is? Is it me?”
“Hardly,” Wowryk said, “But you are much less unbearable than you were before.”
“So who’s your male buddy?” Yanick asked.
“Well,” Wowryk looked a bit uncomfortable, “Captain Stafford,”
“He’s never been interested in me sexually,” she said, “Well, except for that thing with the Matrian SID that was malfunctioning, and that wasn’t his fault.”
“I’ve never been interested in you sexually,” Jall said. Yanick shushed him.
“I was just looking at him, unconscious on the bio-bed, after Queen Anselia left, thinking about the times he’s come to talk to me,” Wowryk went on, “After I became Queen Wowry, before we went on that rescue mission in the Matrian Dreamland and then after Jeffery and I had our little fight. We’ve fought, we’ve argued, I’ve thrown things at him, but when I need him, he seems to just drop by,”
“That’s kinda sweet,” Yanick said.
“I had no idea Stafford had it in him,” Jall quipped.
“Um, can I go?” Grant asked. Everybody ignored him as he eased away from the table.
“You’re not, like, thinking of asking him out, are you?” Yanick asked.
“Oh my, no,” Wowryk said, “After his man-whore spree on Matria? He’s still a filthy man, and I’m sure he’ll be fornicating with Queen Anselia as soon as he wakes up from the sedatives. But I have been thinking a lot about my own love life,”
“Or lack thereof,” Jall said.
“Exactly,” Wowryk said, “I think I have to change that,”
Valtaic was detecting a pattern.
He’d found three more of the false walls in his explorations. All appeared to be sealing off corridors that ran in the same direction. Presumable, whatever was sealed off was buried deeper underground. Armed with that bit of knowledge, Valtaic knew the direction he had to travel in to find the bay. Sure enough, after a few minutes of walking, he found himself in a small lounge looking into the cavernous chamber. His hand came up to slap his comm-badge, before realizing that it had been taken by the Matrians. Carefully, he peered through the window.
There were far more armed Matrians in the bay than before. The airlock door they had entered through was now heavily guarded. Escape did not seem to be an option.
He eased back out of the lounge, watching carefully for Matrians patrolling the corridors. He would need to find his crewmates. There were only a few logical places for them to be. They were probably either stuffed in a closet somewhere, or they were with the Matrian leader being interrogated and possibly tortured.
With that in mind, Valtaic started to make his way to the control booth.
“I really don’t understand your society,” Juliani was saying as Fifebee probed the circuits under the panel, “Men were actually the dominant sex for much of your history?”
“The Federation is comprised of many different cultures,” Fifebee reminded her, using the Matrian equivalent of a tricorder to trace a command pathway, “In many, males started as the dominant gender due to their greater strength and aggression. Even in these male-dominated societies, women eventually achieved equality. Some societies were female-driven initially. Regardless, equal rights for both sexes is one of the most basic freedoms that the Federation demands from its member planets,”
“I should point out that Matria is unusual in that your men were genetically inferior to women.” Fifebee said, “Although many attempted to claim it, for such a large percentage of your people to be genetically different is almost unheard of. It makes you unique as a species. Or, it did,”
“Yes, it did,” Juliani said, “Not anymore, though,”
“You cannot change the past, dear” Fifebee said, “At least, not without traveling through time and potentially causing great damage to the timeline,”
“Nothing, nothing,” Fifebee said quickly.
“Anyway,” Juliani went on, “By returning the men to their former state we’re returning our planet to the way the creator meant it to be,”
“Perhaps,” Fifebee said, “But it seems to me that most of your people prefer to keep the men as they are,”
“We’re smarter than they are,”
Fifebee climbed to her feet.
“This is not working,” she said bluntly, “I had hoped that by scanning the input buffer, I could determine the keystrokes needed to unlock this terminal. Unfortunately, the buffer contents have deteriorated over the past century or two.”
“Try something else,” Juliani said firmly.
“There really isn’t anything else to try,” Fifebee said.
“Are you sure? If you’re out of ideas, then I should simply kill all four of you and save myself the grief of holding you captive,”
“When you put it that way,” Fifebee sighed, “I may have another idea or two,”
Even with her advanced audio pickups, she didn’t hear the thumps as Valtaic took out the two guards standing outside the control booth. Seconds late, the doors hissed open and the maroon officer dashed in, firing his stolen Matrian weapon at Juliani and her bodyguards. Juliani was stunned, but her bodyguards returned fire, narrowly missing Valtaic.
“Ignore me, get my relay!” Fifebee snapped. She lunged at the guards, trying to distract them. One fired at her with his weapon, the beam disrupting her magnetic containment fields and causing her image to blur like watercolours in a thunderstorm. The light show was enough to keep the bodyguards busy as Valtaic grabbed the holo-relay and shoved it into the corridor, the computer core being pulled on its anti-grav by the connecting cable. Fifebee reset her imaging system, materializing next to him. The two of them raced down the corridor.
“We have little time,” she said, “My program is stored on this portable computer core. We must hide it, or they will be able to delete me,”
“We cannot run carrying both the core and your relay,” Valtaic declared. He led her to a stairway he’d found, one the Matrians seemed to be ignoring in favour of the turbolifts.
“Is there a place where we can hide it?”
“Yes,” Getting off on the deck below, Valtaic quickly located an empty room, one of many he’d found during his wanderings. It was a matter of minutes to grab the portable computer core, stash it under a tablecloth and reactivate the subspace link. Unfortunately, this deep into the installation, the relay could not connect to Silverado’s computer. But unless the Matrians sat down for dinner in that particular room, the core should remain hidden. Pulling Fifebee’s relay with them, they started making their way through the complex again, stopping several times to listen for (and avoid) the Matrians that were now searching for them.
“Do you know where the others are being held?” Valtaic asked.
“Yes,” Fifebee said. “Juliani has been threatening to have them killed,”
“Why did we not try to rescue them before hiding the computer core if their lives were in danger?” Valtaic asked.
“Because it would be hard to rescue them if I blinked out of existence halfway through the process,” Fifebee said.
“Ah, yes. Of course,”
Stafford slowly opened his eyes. He was lying on a bio-bed, in Sickbay. Somebody had put a big bouquet of flowers next to his bed. He pulled himself to a sitting position and looked around.
“Ah, you’re awake,”
Stafford recognized the voice of Dr. Krenton, the night shift physician.
“Yeah,” Stafford groaned, “What the hell happened,”
“No clue,” Krenton shrugged. Seeing that Stafford was OK, he turned back to the ‘Days of Honour’ re-run that was playing on a display screen, “But you seem to be fine now.”
Stafford sat for a moment, waiting for his head to clear. Well, fine then. He’d head on up to the bridge and see what was what.
“This problem has been building over the past few years,” T’Parief was still talking, “There was never any question that we cared deeply for each other, but the physical problems were always in my mind. I suppose we felt that love could conquer all,”
“Aye,” Jeffery said dully. Why was T’Parief still talking about his love life? Why? Why?
There was a sudden thud as something struck the door to their prison, then the doors hissed open and Valtaic rushed in.
“Hurry up!” he commanded, “The Matrians are closing on us!”
Jeffery dashed to his feet, T’Parief close behind him.
“I managed to escape when they stunned the rest of you,” Valtaic explained, “I rescued Lt Cmdr Fifebee, we have secured her imaging equipment and are now rescuing you,”
“Why did you rescue her first?” Jeffery asked, following Valtaic as he ran down the corridor.
“I suggest we save that irrelevant discussion for later,” Valtaic said.
“Right, let’s get the hell out of here!” Jeffery said.
“Actually, I suggest we wait on that as well,” Valtaic said.
“There are many armed Matrians guarding the only exit,” Valtaic said, “A fight to escape would be difficult, and if we employed Mr. T’Parief to his full extent, many Matrians would be killed. I believe we have to avoid that now, as they are about to become Federation members.”
“Yes,” T’Parief sighed.
“However, I have found something that bears further investigation,”
“Oh?” Jeffery asked, “What?”
“I believe that whatever the Matrians are searching for, I know where it is,”
Stafford arrived on the bridge, only to find the night shift watching the same re-run.
“I don’t get it,” Lieutenant Day said, “If Minister Vlag is in love with that character, why kill the character off? Why don’t they just get it on and be done with it.”
“Because Klingons like it better this way,” Pye said from the helm.
“Uh, hi guys,” Stafford said, waving weakly, “Report?”
“Sir!” Quintaine exclaimed, jumping to his feet, “T’Parief, Valtaic, Fifebee and Jeffery are still missing on the planet. The Hazardous Team is running rescue scenarios in the holodeck, Queen Anselia refuses to let us attack the thing on the surface and wants to reschedule your date. Oh, and Commander Jall is comforting Wowryk and Yanick, since their loved ones are missing down on the planet.
“Our date?” Stafford exclaimed, “Crap! I forgot!”
“Hey,” Ensign Bith spoke up from Tactical, “We’re getting a message from a Matrian scout ship,”
“On screen,” Stafford and Quintaine ordered.
“This is the Matrian scout Tres to all vessels in Matrian space! We have detected a Qu’Eh attack fleet at the extreme edge of our sensor range. We believe they will reach Matria Prime in less than twenty-four hours! We are awaiting orders!’
“Message repeats,” Bith said.
“Crap,” Stafford said, “I really should have just stayed in bed,”
Fifebee was standing in a short stretch of corridor, staring at a blank piece of wall when the rest of the team came dashing around the corner, Matrian energy blasts searing the air as they flashed by. T’Parief and Valtaic took cover behind the corner and started returning fire as Jeffery joined Fifebee at the wall.
“What is it?” he asked.
Fifebee pulled out the Matrian tricorder she’d been using.
“The interference is preventing this device from scanning the wall,” Fifebee said, “However, Mr. Valtaic believes it is a force field of some kind. If the Old Matrians wanted to hide something in this installation, this would be the logical place to do it,”
“Sounds like ye need an engineer’s touch,” Jeffery said. He started looking around for a wall panel. He found an access panel near the floor and popped it open.
“Wow,” he said, “They’re using an electro-plasma system, sort of like what we have on Silverado,” he carefully started probing the circuits, “This is really first-class workmanship! It looks like they used a composite duranium alloy for the structural-“
“Just open the door!” T’Parief snapped, ducking back as several energy blasts flashed by.
“Just a sec,” Jeffery said, “It’s alien circuitry! Ah don’t wanna damage somethin’ we might end up needin’,”
The sound of running footsteps could be heard as their pursuers drew closer. T’Parief and Valtaic continued firing, but the Matrians were persistent.
“Mr. Jeffery,” Valtaic shouted, “We are about to be re-captured and possibly tortured or killed unless you can turn off that force-field!”
“OK, OK,” Jeffery muttered. He fiddled with the innards of the panel.
“Almost got it!”
The footsteps were even closer now.
There was a strange, electrical sound as the holographic wall and the force field both shut down.
“Hurry!” Jeffery shouted. Fifebee darted through first, holo-relay in tow. Valtaic and T’Parief dashed through next. Jeffery, quickly praying he knew what he was doing, slammed the access cover back into place and jumped through, barely clearing the force-field before it reactivated. He stumbled, catching himself on T’Parief and narrowly avoiding crashing to the floor.
“See?” he asked, “Ah told ye Ah could do it,”
“Uh-huh,” Fifebee said.
“Honestly! Ah did!”
“Ah even put the force-field back up so they can’t follow us…” Jeffery trailed off. Nobody was paying any attention to him.
“What are y’all lookin’ at?”
He pushed his way between Valtaic and T’Parief, eager to see just what exactly the Matrians had been hiding here. A weapon? Treasure? A vast library filled with knowledge that would rival that of Memory Alpha?
“What the f**k?” he demanded.
“We were just wondering the same thing,” Fifebee admitted.
The corridor they were in ended after a few feet, opening into a small antechamber. The colour scheme was the same as the rest of the installation, but somehow the room seemed less utilitarian. The floors were some kind of polished stone rather than plating, the bulkheads inset with curving patterns. Three workstations lined the far wall, behind which there appeared to be an exit.
“It is a processing station,” Valtaic said, “For checking security clearances, and such.
“Oh!” Jeffery exclaimed. He pushed his way to the front of the group, remembering that he was in charge after all, “Aye, Ah can see that,”
“It makes sense,” Fifebee said, moving closer to one of the consoles, “According to Juliani, this installation contains something of great importance. Surely the Matrians were most careful about who was allowed in?”
The four of them eased their way past the workstations and into the next room.
“What the f**k?” Jeffery exclaimed.
The new, larger chamber they found themselves in held neither treasure, weapons nor information. Instead, they found themselves in what could only be described as a comfortable travel station. A multi-car tram sat next to a loading platform, with seating for dozens of people. The walls were the same as those in the previous room but the ceiling was a full level higher. Stairs led to bridges crossing to the other side of the tram tracks and a series of lighting fixtures bathed the chamber in a twilight glow. Overhead, dark illumination panels waited to brighten up the chamber, if only someone could find the ‘on’ switch.
“This doesn’t appear to be anything of military or political significance,” T’Parief said dryly.
“It does not,” Valtaic agreed.
The four officers looked at each other for a moment, confused.
“What do ye think we should do?” Jeffery asked Fifebee.
“I suggest,” she said, stepping further into the room, “That we explore,”