Author: Brendan Chris
Admiral Edward Tunney had returned to the Starbase 45 Operations Center. As usual, a lowly peon had cried ‘Admiral on the bridge’ and Captain Brown had come running from the Docking Control console, where he’d been watching the vidscreen with his First Officer. Before the diminutive officer had a chance to ask how the ventilation in Tunney’s office was functioning, or if Tunney had tried the new Romulan haberdashery in the shopping center, Tunney started speaking.
“Anything new from the Matrian relay?” he asked.
“See for yourself, Admiral,” Brown said, gesturing at the screen. A tactical plot of the Matrian system, complete with computer-generated weapon’s fire, explosions and ship statistics was displayed on the screen. Actually, it was in the lower right corner of the screen taking advantage of the Picture-In-Picture feature while the majority of the screen was dedicated to a Days of Honour rerun. Embarrassed, one of Brown’s officers switched the views, giving a better view of the Matrian situation and relegating the tangled relationships of Minister Vlag and Sovok to the lower corner.
“Why is there a scoreboard?” Tunney asked, pointing at a section of the screen that read ‘Matrians: 15, Qu’Eh 9’.”
“Dunno. But it’s good to know how they stand, isn’t it?”
“I suppose. I’d feel better if they had something a bit more substantial than a few destroyed fighters keeping them in the lead,” Tunney mused.
“Who the hell uses star-fighters these days, anyway?” Brown asked.
“Weren’t the Constellation and Akira-class ships designed as fighter carriers?” Brown’s security chief asked.
“I have no idea,” Tunney said flatly. On the screen, the two fleets were coming together into a tangle of ships, weapons and fiery explosions. Suddenly, the image distorted, scrambling like that morning’s eggs and vanishing from the screen.
“We’ve lost the signal!” the communications officer reported.
“Problems at the relay?”
“No, the relay is still sending a carrier. The signal was cut off at the source,”
“Well,” Tunney sighed, turning to the turbolift, “I’ll go start writing condolence notes to the families,”
“Isn’t that a bit premature, sir?” Brown asked.
“I have about eight hundred of them to write,” he said, “By the time our reinforcements get there and confirm the carnage, I should be just about finished.”
“Ohh, excellent thinking, sir!” Brown gushed.
“Kiss-ass,” Tunney muttered as the turbolift doors hissed shut.
“I don’t see how this is a problem,” Commander T’Parief was saying, “They have been in stasis for at least two hundred years. I doubt they are a threat to us,”
“An excellent security threat assessment,” Valtaic said, inclining his head, “However, like most security officers, you forget the consider those repercussions not related to security,”
“That is because I do not CARE about repercussions not related to security!”
“What a limited viewpoint to take,”
“You will have a limited viewpoint, once I finish gouging out your eyes!”
“Please,” Valtaic sneered, “Dr. Wowryk would have them replaced within an hour,”
“Then let us proceed!” T’Parief growled, his claws sliding into place with an audible <SNICK>.
“Should we stop them?” Jeffery asked Fifebee.
“Negative,” she replied, “They have been pent up down here for a while. Let them get it out of their systems. Perhaps it will be like one of those dramatic holo-vision shows, where two characters begin with a heated argument, caused in part by sexual tension, and leading to an intense session of sexual activity,”
Both T’Parief and Valtaic abruptly stopped arguing, both spinning to face her.
“What?” Valtaic demanded.
“Did somebody say sex?” T’Parief inquired.
“Please, continue your argument,” Fifebee said, “This is most fascinating.”
T’Parief and Valtaic exchanged glances.
“I am no longer in the mood to argue,” Valtaic said flatly.
“Me neither,” T’Parief agreed.
“Smoothly done,” Jeffery muttered to Fifebee.
She returned to her scans of the laboratory. A dozen stasis tubes lined the walls, each containing the inanimate form of a male Matrian. A thirteenth stood in the center of the lab, containing another. The difference was that while the other twelve men were slim, almost elfin, this one was more muscular, more defined….more manly, Fifebee’s attraction sub-routines finally determined. By Matrian standards, anyway. By human standards he was still small of stature and lithe of limb.
Regardless, the presence of the Matrians, combined with the large amount of genetic manipulation equipment in the lab, led Fifebee to one inescapable conclusion.
“This is where they created the new men,” she said, slowly walking around the central stasis tube, “The experiments used to ‘upgrade’ the intelligence of the Matrian men were carried out here. I am sure of it.” She frowned, “Or at least were moved here at some point. Possibly for safe-keeping.”
“So…no superweapon?” T’Parief asked, sounding disappointed.
“No superweapon,” Fifebee confirmed.
“Then we should leave. The battle would have started already,” T’Parief said.
“I’m with the big guy,” Jeffery said, “This whole trip was a waste of time,”
“No,” Fifebee said sharply, “Regardless of the fact that we did not find a superweapon, this facility is the most important find for the Matrians since the Reawakening. The computer cores undoubtedly contain the unaltered history of their world, and we have only scratched the surface, considering the size of the facility.”
“That’s nice,” Jeffery said, “Really, Ah’m happy for them. But me ship is up in orbit, probably getting the crap pounded out of it, and if there’s nothing down here that’s gonna stop the battle, Ah need to get me bum up there!”
“I presume you intend to take the rest of yourself, as well?” Valtaic asked.
“Ah’m not gonna dignify that with an answer,” Jeffery muttered, “C’mon, let’s go,” he gestured for the door.
“Wait,” Fifebee insisted, “The report I found concerning this room did not mention genetic experiments! It referred to a prisoner who had been captured and had to be placed in storage! This man, most likely,” she gestured at the central tube, “If we can revive him, who knows what he can tell us!”
“Fifebee, that’s great. It really is.” Jeffery said, “But the ship’s in trouble, and we need to stop screwin’ around down here and help out!”
“I agree,” T’Parief growled.
“They will not be able to beam you up,” Valtaic said, “Their shields will be up for the battle. And our orders are to remain here,”
“Until we find out what’s goin’ on with this place! Which we know!” Jeffery said. He looked around. It was a stalemate.
“Jeffery to Silverado,” he said, tapping the Matrian comm-badge Fifebee had found earlier.
“Jeffery to Stafford?”
Still no response.
OK, fine. He was the freaking leader of this away mission, it was high time he started acting like it.
“T’Parief and I are heading back to the entrance,” he said, “We’ll see what’s going on with those rebels, and see if we can contact the ship. You and Valtaic stay here and do…whatever it was you wanted to do.”
Fifebee gave a small smile.
“Oh, Simon, that’s a great idea!” she said, “I know you and Chris had some issues the last time you were cut off from the ship. He’d be so happy to see that you’re compromising and planning instead of fighting!”
“And a wise compromise it is,” Valtaic observed.
“Shut it!” Jeffery snapped, giving Fifebee a strange look and pulling on T’Parief’s arm. The two of them left.
“Now where the hell was that transit hub?”
“Contact with the Qu’Eh fleet in eight minutes, mark!” Ensign Bith reported from tactical.
“Now for the fun part,” Jall mused.
“I don’t know,” Wowryk shrugged, “This whole battle thing hasn’t been that bad, so far,”
“That’s because we’ve been fighting at a distance,” Jall said, “Up until now. Now it’s time to get up close and personal,”
“Sounds sinful,” Wowryk observed.
“Sweetie, you have NO idea,”
“This is HQ to all ships,” Stafford’s voice came over the comm, “Stand by for Starburst on my mark,”
“Helm, standby for full impulse power, heading 000 mark 90,” Wowryk said. “Wow, I sound like such a pro!” She giggled softly.
“He really shouldn’t be allowed to name things,” Jall said, “I would have called this ‘Flower Power’, or ‘D’Ceti Missionary Position’ or something cool,”
“Sir, I don’t think you should be allowed to name things either,” Lieutenant Pye said from the helm, looking a bit green.
“Belay that,” Jall snickered.
“Who was planning all this battle strategy stuff, anyway?” Wowryk asked.
“Stafford and I got together with some of the Matrian officers. Why?”
“Because it seems like you guys actually came up with some good ideas,” Wowryk said, “I was…surprised.”
“Well, they DO have tactics classes at the Academy,” Jall said, looking offended.
Wowryk gave him a sceptical look.
“That,” Jall said slowly, “And it turns out that both Stafford and I really like these old 20th-Century ‘Star Wars’ books. Some of those authors were fantastic when it came to writing space battles!”
“That sounds more plausible,” Wowryk muttered.
“Contact with the Qu’Eh fleet in thirty seconds!’ Bith called, running her hands over her panel, “Time to end the character dialog and get ready to fight!”
“Could you say that again, but in a more manly voice?” Jall asked wistfully. Wowryk smacked him upside the head.
“All ships,” Stafford’s voice called, “MARK!”
As the Qu’Eh fleet advanced in weapons range, closing in on the Matrian/Senousian/Silverado fleet, sporadic weapons fire began passing between the two fleets. At that range, most of the phaser and disrupter missed. Photon and quantum torpedoes were far more accurate, what with having built-in targeting and guidance systems and all, but they could in turn be targeted. Still, several Matrian torpedoes managed to impact the Qu’Eh ships, while only a few Qu’Eh torpedoes impacted the Matrian fleet. As the two fleets closed in, more and more weapons fire began passing between them, more and more of it hitting home.
Suddenly, the Matrian fleet broke apart; cruisers, scouts and fighters pulling hard turns to port, to starboard, up or down as their impulse engines flared to full power. As the ships scattered in all directions, they formed a broad, flower-shaped starburst. The Qu’Eh ships, still proceeding under power, abruptly found themselves surrounded on all sides by the defending fleet, with the incomplete satellite defence network right in front of them.
The comm channels went berserk. Yanick, Burke and nearly half a dozen Matrian technicians, coordinated by Verethi and Stafford, started calling out commands to the various ships in the fleet.
“Port flank, concentrate fire on enemy vessels designated Cutie-5 and Cutie-6”
“Silverado, take out the Qu’Eh cruiser at 285 mark 2!”
“Probe Leader, take out the fighters heading for Senousian Cruiser Falic!”
“Starboard flank, evasive! You’ve got three cruisers trying to flank you!”
Weapons fire flashed through space as the Qu’Eh ships fought to escape from the kill zone. Several of the enemy ships starting losing shield integrity, weapons digging into their hulls and letting lose plumes of escaping gas. The defending ships, their shields fortified against Qu’Eh weapons frequencies, fared much better.
Then all hell broke loose.
“We’re being jammed!” Yanick cried out.
“WHAT?” Stafford snapped, spinning away from Burke’s console. The main holo-display started flickering, icons representing ships turning orange to indicate ‘no data’.
“The Qu’Eh ships are generating dampening signals!” Yanick said, tapping at her panel, “We’re cut off! And can somebody who speaks Matrian tell me what this blinking red light does?”
Verethi looked over her shoulder.
“That means that we’ve lost a secure holo-data linkup,” she frowned, “But so far as I know, we don’t have any secure holo-data links going anywhere. Forget it, we have bigger problems!”
“Burke, start figuring out how to break through that jamming!” Stafford snapped.
“Oh this is bad,” Jall muttered as the ship shook.
“Shields are down to 80% Bith called.
“Have the Qu’Eh shifted their weapons frequencies yet?”
“Nope, they haven’t figured that part out yet,”
“Quintaine! Any luck with the jamming?”
“It’s being generated by multiple ships!” the short, dark-haired officer reported, “It’s not something we can take out easily.
The ship shook again, harder this time.
“Two of the Qu’Eh cruisers are combining fire!” Bith reported, “Shields down to 70%!”
“Target one of the ships with the phaser cannon!” Wowryk ordered, “Take them out!” she quickly crossed herself, asking forgiveness for the imminent deaths.
“We’ve only got one shot with that cannon!” Bith warned her.
“I think we need the shield power more!” Jall said, “Target and fire!”
From under the lip of the forward saucer, powered by a series of energy cells, Silverado’s Defiant-class phaser cannon came to life, spitting a dozen extremely high-powered shots at the attacking ship. The Qu’Eh ships shields held against the first few shots before failing miserably, the remaining shots impacting against the bare hull, digging right to the ship’s warp core, which exploded in a brilliant flash of light. Unfortunately, without a proper warp core it would take over an hour for the energy cells to recharge.
“One more down,” Bith reported.
“But the Qu’Eh have disabled five scouts!” Quintaine called, “One Matrian cruiser destroyed, another disabled!”
With the loss of communications, the defending fleet was quickly degenerating into a disorganized rabble. The Qu’Eh ships were breaking free of the ‘kill zone’ and, without any co-ordinated attacks, the defender’s weapons did only moderate shield damage. Star-fighters, cut off from their leaders, had to put as much focus into locating and remaining with their wingmen as they did in attacking enemy ships. The fact that they were still scattered worked in the Matrian’s favour, as it made it harder for the Qu’Eh ships to chase them down, but those ships closest to the Qu’Eh fleet were quickly disabled.
A burst of static broke through Silverado’s bridge.
“This is Matrian HQ to all ships!” Stafford’s voice, shouting to be heard through the static, sounding slightly panicked, “Make the following adjustments to your comm systems!” Burke’s voice came over the channel, giving a series of complicated-sounding instructions.
“Quintaine!” Wowryk snapped.
“Already on it!”
In Defense HQ, Stafford gave a sigh of relief as a barrage of data suddenly flowed into the command center.
“We’ve re-established short-range communications,” Burke reported, “Long-range communications are still down!”
“Get the fleet back together!” Verethi snapped, “Reposition them near the defence satellites! Establish covering fire!”
On the holo-display, the tiny holographic ships burst back into action. Several started moving towards the planet, others turned red, indicated the ships were disabled. Still more vanished as the ships were declared ‘lost’.
“YOU HAVE LOST THE LEAD!” the table boomed.
“That thing is REALLY started to piss me off!” Stafford snapped.
Jeffery and Jeffery walked through the huge, deserted transit hub.
This was after the first time they’d had to go back to the genetics lab and ask Fifebee for directions to the turbolifts and after the second time, when they’d had to go back to the genetics lab and ask Fifebee what level the transit hub was on. And after the third time, when…well, you get the idea. Fifebee had finally fished around in one of the workbenches until she found a very old, blank Matrian padd and scribbled down directions on how to get back out to the hanger bays. Jeffery and T’Parief, like males in about 78% of known species, insisted that they didn’t need directions, despite the fact that they’d already returned for directions three times. Valtaic, of course, bluntly informed them both that he would have asked for a map before leaving the first time.
Once in the hub however, it was easy to find the tram they’d arrived on. Most of the hub was sunken into gloomy shadows, with only muted emergency lighting active. The normal lighting in the tram stood out like a beacon. As they settled in for the ride to the hanger bays, Jeffery squinted out the windows.
“It is unlikely that you will see anything on this trip,” T’Parief grumbled, “We saw nothing on the last one,”
“Aye,” Jeffery said. Inwardly, he thought that if he at least appeared to be busy, he wouldn’t have to listen to T’Parief talk about his sex life with Yanick again. Even thinking about not wanting to think about it was making him picture things that were…disturbing.
“There is something we should discuss, before we make our battle plans for facing the rebels,” T’Parief said.
“This isn’t about…a woman, is it?” Jeffery asked.
“Mate, Ah know ye’nd Yanick have had a rocky road, sometimes, but y’know she loves ye, and she-“
“This is not about Yanick,” T’Parief cut him off, “But thank you for the moral support. I appreciate it,”
“Really, it is not about Yanick or really, I appreciate it?”
“Because I would hate for my colleagues to think that just because I have a fearsome appearance, I don’t appreciate a bit of comradeship or encouragement once in a while,”
“When did ye get so emotional?” Jeffery asked.
“I AM NOT EMOTIONAL!” T’Parief roared.
“EEP!” Jeffery squeaked, retreating to the far side of the tram while T’Parief calmly wiped the spittle from his chin.
“Anyway, I wish to speak to you about Fifebee. Haven’t you noticed a change in her behaviour lately?”
Jeffery thought for a minute.
“Aye, she’s been saying a few strange things the past week or two. She’s stressed out, y’know?” Like the rest of us, he added to himself.
“I think it may be more,” T’Parief said, looking at the padd she’d given them.
“Why do ye say that?”
T’Parief handed him the padd. Jeffery took it, looking wary. The first entry was Fifebee’s hastily sketched map, with a little diagram of the tower they’d found and little notes telling them how to set the tram destination. The second entry was a map of the corridors around the hanger they’d used as an entry point.
“Is that a happy face?” Jeffery pointed.
“It is. Notice as well the little hearts drawn next to the written directions.”
“That doesn’t seem like a very Fifebee-like thing to do,” Jeffery mused.
“It does not,”
Something was tugging at the corner of Jeffery’s mind. The way Fifebee was acting…
“Must be her personality database again,” Jeffery mused, “Lord knows she’s had enough problems with that thing. I’ll check it out when we get back to the ship,”
“Perhaps. But what personality would explain that last entry?”
Jeffery looked back at the padd. The third and final entry was…a recipe for muffins? And a reminder to cover up if they were going back into that desert sun.
“What kind of science-type personality would-“ Jeffery’s eyes suddenly bugged out of his head. “SYLVIA!”
T’Parief cocked his head.
“It’s Sylvia!” Jeffery said, jumping to his feet as the tram slowly slid to a stop in the first transit stop they’d found, “That’s why her gel-pack isn’t working! She must have used Fifebee’s personality database as a hiding place when she was fighting with that virus! Ye Gods, I’m an idiot! Why didn’t I notice it sooner? We’ve gotta go back!”
“What about the ship?” T’Parief demanded.
“The ship?” Jeffery stared at him, “But…Sylvia…”
“If she is somehow in Fifebee’s program, she will still be there when we get back. For now, we must focus,”
“Right, right,” Jeffery swallowed, following T’Parief out of the tram and towards the holographic force field separating the hanger from the rest of the facility, “So, I guess we need a battle plan then, huh?”
“Left flank, focus your firepower on the Qu’Eh cruiser at 305 mark 5,” Yanick’s voice came over the command channel, “Silverado, cover cruiser Bentuk, their shields are almost down,”
“Our shields are almost down!” Jall grumbled, but gestured at Wowryk.
“Helm, move us between those Qu’Eh fighters and the Bentuk,” she ordered, “Bith, see if we can get some star-fighter support over here!”
“All Matrian star-fighters are currently attacking other enemies,” Bith reported, “But if we continue to hold, we’ll be asssted in the order in which our request for help was received,”
The ship shook again as weapons fire crashed over the nearly-depleted shields.
“Tell them to hurry up!” Jall snapped.
“Two more scouts have been disabled!” Burke reported, one hand running over his panel, the other resting on the thigh of the pretty Matrian technician next to him.
“But not destroyed?” Stafford asked.
“Disabled,” Burke confirmed.
Stafford and Verethi stood together, watching the holographic display intently. The Matrian/Senousian/Starfleet forces had regrouped, as had the Qu’Eh. The Qu’Eh seemed reluctant to move within range of the defence satellites, even though they had the forces to overpower them. Verethi commented on as much.
“They probably think their losses would to be too heavy to be worth it,” Stafford said, “They can pick away at our ships from a distance, then take care of the satellites when they’re the only defences we have left,”
This was turning into the longest battle Stafford had ever witnessed in his career. Most of the time, it was one or two starships vs. one or two other starships. The fight would be over relatively quickly, with shields broken down and engines disabled or destroyed. Sometimes a handy nebula or planet would lead to a few hours of cat and mouse, but that was still fairly small-scale. The Dominion War had seen some pretty big fleet battles, but the Dominion War was the exception, not the rule.
The battle over Matria Prime was shaping up to be a stamina run. Ships were being disabled and shields worn down, but both sides were now slowly rotating their ship positions, moving ships from the front of their formations to the rear as their shields weakened, giving them a chance to recharge while other ships took the brunt of the attack for a while. The star fighters were a pain in the ass to both sides, and as predicted the effort needed to swat at the tiny fighters was distracting both fleets from focusing their attacks on larger vessels.
“Sir, Silverado’s shields are down to 5 percent,” one of the Matrian techs reported.
“Move them back,” Stafford ordered, “Bring the Pektoral and the Bosam into position,”
“Those ships only have 65 percent shields,” Verethi said, studying the two Senousian cruisers on the display, “They need more time to recharge!”
“It’s better than 5!” Stafford said.
On the display, Silverado’s icon moved deeper into the formation of ships. Stafford let out a small sigh of relief as her shield strength slowly started to increase again.
“Have Silverado focus on taking out Qu’Eh fighters,” Verethi ordered.
“Belay that,” Stafford said, “they don’t have enough power to recharge their shields and attack at the same time!”
“We gave you two warp reactors!” Verethi shot back.
“Yeah, powerful enough to run a runabout, maybe!”
“Your targeting scanners are more accurate than ours,” Verethi said, “If your ship can keep the star fighters busy, we can focus our attack on the cruisers!”
“No,” Stafford said firmly, not taking his eyes off the display.
Verethi lowered her voice.
“If you do not order your ship to attack, Matrian lives will be lost!”
“If I order them to attack, their lives could be lost!” Stafford hissed back.
They glared at each other for a moment.
“Of course,” Verethi said stiffly, “It’s only natural for you to feel that the lives of your people are more important…”
Stafford’s eyes blazed.
“You know, considering you people tried to enslave us, I think we’re being pretty damned supportive!” he snapped back, still keeping his voice low.
“Oh yes, this is good for moral,” Verethi said, “Let’s fight in front of the underlings!”
Stafford was about to tell Verethi where she could go shove her moral when a horrible thought occurred.
She was right.
Of course the lives of the people on Silverado were more important to him! Why the hell would he think otherwise? That was his ship and crew up there, and as much as everybody could talk about how the Matrians were now Federation citizens and how it was now his duty to help defend them, the truth was that they really hadn’t done anything to earn that protection.
“Any new orders from HQ?” Jall asked.
“Nothing so far,” Wowryk said, “Shields are recharging, slowly. I think, anyway. I’m not sure how fast they usually recharge, but this seems pretty slow,”
“How about the Matrians?”
“Well, I think both sides have run out of tricks for the moment,” Bith reported, “We’re shooting at them, they’re shooting as us, but now that both sides are rotating their ships around, neither side is doing as much damage.”
“This could take a while,” Pye observed, running his hands over his panel, dodging some Qu’Eh weapon’s fire. They watched on the screen as the other ships in the fleet danced and weaved; those closer to the Qu’Eh far more so than those further away.
Not far from them a Matrian scout sparked, a Qu’Eh fighter having just scored a hit on their main reactor.
Jall jumped out of his chair and joined Bith at tactical.
“How are the Matrians cruisers doing against the fighters?”
“Not very well,” Bith reported, “Their targeting scanners aren’t very accurate,”
“What about ours?”
“Better,” she admitted, “But we’re going to have a hard time restoring shields if our power is going into weapons, especially without Sylvia to help keep everything balanced.”
Jall thought for a moment.
“We could reduce our phaser power,” Day suggested from Ops, “The shields on those fighters are fairly weak,”
“Scale phaser power back to fifty percent,” Jall ordered, “And see if you can pick off some of those fighters.”
“Captain, I insist that you order your ship to attack!” Verethi hissed.
Stafford was still staring at the display, his mind working over the situation. Maybe he could stall Verethi a bit, wait for Silverado’s shields to recover a bit more, then give in and have them attack?
That didn’t seem very Starfleet, though.
And that’s what it boiled down to in the end, didn’t it? He really didn’t have the right to judge whether or not the Matrians had earned what he and his crew was giving them. They’d decided to join the Federation, he’d supported it, the Federation had concurred, and that was it. They were committed to defending this planet with everything they had.
They why was he having such a hard time giving the order to put his ship back into danger?
“Yanick,” he swallowed, “Tell Jall-“
“Sir,” Burke interrupted, “Silverado is opening fire on the Qu’Eh fighters. Reduced phaser power.”
Stafford watched on the screen as one Qu’Eh fighter blinked out. Another followed, several seconds later.
“Hmph,” Verethi grunted, moving off to see to some other crisis.
Stafford stared at the display. Silverado’s shield-recharge rate was down, but the Qu’Eh fighters were suddenly a lot more cautious in their attack runs, now that more accurate guns were pointed their way. After a few minutes, the Matrian and Senousian star fighters, supported by Silverado, had taken the pressure off the cruisers, allowing them to focus more firepower on the Qu’Eh fleet.
Stafford couldn’t help but feel a rush of emotion at the decision his crew had made. It was a decision they’d made without him, under Jall’s command, of all people. But he couldn’t help it. To his surprise though, it wasn’t loneliness or abandonment that came over him the next time he saw the tiny icon on the display.
It was pride.
There was a sudden flood in communications and sensor data.
“Sir!” Burke shouted, “The Qu’Eh fleet is breaking off!”
“What?” Stafford’s attention snapped back to the attacking ships. Qu’Eh fighters were speeding away from the defending fleet at full speed, and the attacking fleet was wheeling around. After several moments of movement, the Qu’Eh fleet jumped into warp.
“We did it!” Verethi exclaimed. There was a cheer from the Matrians as the ships in orbit confirmed the retreat.
Stafford, Burke and Yanick exchanged glances. It didn’t make sense for the Qu’Eh to retreat, not when they still had the advantage in numbers.
Stafford tapped at the holo-display, zooming out to display the Matrian solar system rather than the space around Matria Prime. He was completely unsurprised to see the Qu’Eh fleet drop out of warp near the orbit of Matria V.
“No,” he said, “We didn’t,”
“Ah still can’t get through to Fifebee,” Jeffery complained, tapping again at his Matrian comm-badge. The round badge, with six triangular indents along the edge, emitted a squeal of static, “There’s some kind of jamming,”
“Undoubtedly also the reason why we lost communications with the ship,” T’Parief said.
“Hmmm,” Jeffery mumbled. What he wouldn’t give for a Starfleet-issue tricorder and comm-badge!
The two of them had left the transit station and were passing through the processing center/security checkpoint/whatever-the-hell-it-was, their boots clicking on the polished stone floor.
“This is my plan,” T’Parief was saying, “We begin with stealth. I will…disable a rebel, you will take his or her weapon. Once we are both armed, we will proceed to the control booth. If we can open the main hanger doors, it will be easier for us to escape.”
“Are ye sure ye’ll be able to sneak up on one of them?” Jeffery asked.
T’Parief simply stared at him.
They proceeded down the corridor to the force field wall. Jeffery again noticed the change in décor from the central section of the base. That area had warm colours, high ceilings and wide open spaces. This area was smaller, though the corridor was still larger than any of Silverado’s, and the blue and red colourings and lights made it feel like Jeffery was walking through a giant artery. Also, while the corridors around the transit hub and laboratory had consisted of straight segments, this section had a gentle curve to it, like the corridors in Silverado’s saucer. Of course, they knew from their earlier explorations that these corridors went on for what could be kilometres underground, connecting at least two and probably more hanger bays.
T’Parief couldn’t help but wonder what had led the Matrians to abandon the place. It clearly contained research facilities, ships, presumably repair and refuelling facilities and plenty of living space. The cavern between the central tower and this outer edge could hold an entire Sovereign-class starship! It could have made a huge difference in the war!
On the other hand, the women had controlled the facility, and the woman had won anyway. Maybe the place wouldn’t have made that much of a difference after all.
Jeffery approached the force field, then dropped to his knees and yanked open a wall panel.
“Let’s see if Ah remember how this worked,” he muttered, “De-couple the isolinear…tetrahedron. That’s a funny shape, eh? Meself, I like those isolinear rods the Cardassians have.”
“As does Yanick,” T’Parief commented.
“Ah don’t want to know,” Jeffery replied, “Cross circuit the secondary anodyne relay-“
There was a spark and Jeffery jerked his hand back.
“Oopsie,” he muttered as the force field faded out. There was another shower of sparks from the panel.
“Ah think Ah broke it,” he muttered.
“Irrelevant,” T’Parief stated. He immediately moved to the intersection between this corridor and the next cross-corridor. He peered around the corner, eyes darting back and forth.
It was empty.
“This way,” he gestured.
Fifebee stood next to the central stasis tube. She held a Matrian tricorder, and was attempting to scan the body in the tube. Valtaic had just finished a sweep of the lab. He’d found the computer terminals locked down and most of the equipment without power. As such, he’d returned to observe Fifebee’s progress.
“I wonder if there is a waste extraction facility on this level,” he muttered.
“I did notice one down the hall and two doors to your left,” Fifebee said.
“Excellent!” There was a slight instability in Fifebee’s holo-relay as Valtaic’s energy field pulsed in what she assumed was happiness. “Please, pardon me. I have a very large bowel movement to complete,”
Fifebee gave a revolted shudder as Valtaic left. Honestly, humanoids! Ingesting plant and animal matter, discharging wastes and shooting liquified DNA at each other to procreate. The whole thing was vile!
Her mind gave a little flip. Yes, yes they were vile. But at the same time, they were just so lovable! Like little kittens running around the cosmos. Little kittens that needed to be loved and nurtured and protected!
Fifebee initiated a personality database reset, annoyed at the need to do so. The upgrade she’d received had resolved the personality conflicts she’d been experiencing, but recently they’d cropped up again. She would have to speak to Dr. Zimmerman, maybe to her sister 6-C as well.
Fifebee felt a sudden rush of warm affection as she thought of her sister. She wondered if Zimmerman had any baby pictures he could show her?
Fifebee initiated another personality database reset, returning her attention to the Matrian male in stasis. The Matrian tricorder wasn’t quite on par with the Starfleet version, but she could tell that he was alive and appeared to be identical to modern-day Matrian men.
He was also, she noticed, quite well endowed. She wondered what else the Matrian women had tweaked when they were ‘upgrading’ their men.
She turned her attention to one of the other men in the room. He was definitely an un-altered Matrian male, though she really didn’t understand why the Old Matrian women would keep them around.
She was so absorbed in her scans that she almost didn’t hear the hiss of the central stasis tube opening. Being a hologram, she did of course hear it. But there was a still a nanosecond or two of lag as the auditory input waited for her central program to acknowledge the input.
She spun around just as the Matrian gasped, his eyes opening and darting around in confusion.
Fifebee started looking around furiously, trying to find a control surface she might have brushed up against, a security device she might have triggered or any other explanation for why the tube had suddenly opened.
“Did I do that?” she muttered angrily.
Stafford, invoking the power he apparently possessed as Matrian Minister of Planetary Defence, had called a meeting.
Yanick and Burke hadn’t been surprised. It seemed to be a standard Starfleet tactic: Something going wrong? Call a meeting! (Of course, this harkened far before the days of Starfleet, to the days of the corporations, the bureaucracies and the drone mentality of the 20th-Century militaries, but we digress.)
The Matrians, however, were slightly surprised.
“Why are we having a meeting?” Admiral Verethi was demanding, “Don’t we have more important things to do?”
“What do you expect?” Minister Laurette grumbled, pure venom in her tone, “The Queen put a MAN in charge of our defences!”
“Maybe so,” Verethi shot back, “But he did…” she trailed off, suddenly aware of the eyes on her.
“Adequately,” she finished, glaring at Stafford, almost disgusted with herself for admitting it.
Stafford, Yanick and Burke had been joined by Queen Anselia, Admiral Verethi and Governess Laurette. Laurette, once Mistress Laurette, supreme leader of the Matrian Empire, was now head of the Matrian Opposition and as such had been invited. Stafford had his own reasons for wanting her there, but agreed with Anselia that keeping her in the loop would be the politically proper thing to do. The six of them sat in a rather opulent conference room in the high-security section of Matrian Planetary Defence HQ. It was much larger that Silverado’s conference lounge and the real wood panelling, thick carpets, chandelier and hot-beverage service far outclasses anything on the starship. Still, Stafford missed his own conference room, his own table and his own crew.
“OK, Burke, what do we know?” Stafford said, eager to get things over with.
“Um, well,” Burke said, activating the giant viewscreen that ran along one entire wall, “We attacked them, they attacked us, they retreated and now they’re just sitting out by Matria V.”
“Let’s go get them, then,” Laurette snapped, “Kick that swine out of our system!”
“If only,” Verethi declared, “As usual, the Starfleet peon has poorly explained things,”
“What does she mean ‘as usual’?” Burke grumbled to Yanick.
“We attacked the Qu’Eh with a…what did you call it?” Verethi asked Stafford.
“Poisoned Pawn,” Stafford answered.
“We beg your pardon?” Anselia inquired politely.
“It’s a chess move,” Stafford explained, “You send a pawn, a low-ranking piece, out against your enemy. You know he’s going to kill it, but you use the opportunity to learn about his tactics, or to lure him into a position that works better for you,”
“In this case,” Verethi explained, “We used robot ships to lure the Qu’Eh within range of the weapons installation we found on Matria IV’s moon. We managed to learn Qu’Eh weapon’s frequencies and strengths,”
“Clever,” Anselia mused.
“Yeah, we thought so too,” Stafford grinned.
“And then they attacked the planet,” Laurette snapped, “Why did you allow that to happen, when you could have attacked them in the outer system??”
“We have a more defensible position here,” Stafford said, “And we managed to fight them off once. But now comes the hard part,”
“They’ve levelled the playing field,” Verethi interrupted, “They’ve had the chance now to scan our weapons frequencies, analyze our tactics and look for our weak points. They didn’t retreat because they thought they might lose, they backed off because they know that if they come at us again with an assault tailored against us they can wipe us out with fewer losses to themselves!”
Even Laurette looked disturbed at this.
“We need to get unpredictable,” Stafford said, “We also need to plan for the worst. Which is why I wanted you here, Laurette,”
Laurette looked down her nose at him.
“What could you possibly want from me?”
Jeffery and T’Parief crept carefully down the corridor, peering down every cross corridor they passed. There had been no sign of any Matrian rebels so far. They were close to the hanger bay control booth, needing only to climb two or three levels and traverse a few more stretches of corridor.
There was a soft creak. T’Parief immediately stopped, his ears perking up and the tiny antennae nubs on his head twitching. Jeffery wasn’t sure if he could actually sense anything from those stunted things, but whatever.
T’Parief raised one finger. Jeffery frowned. Did that mean one Matrian, or wait one minute?
He gestured at himself, then at the floor, then shrugged.
T’Parief stared at the stupid human, wondering what the hell was going through his head. There was a Matrian rebel approaching, just one. What part of one wasn’t Jeffery understanding?
He extended two figures downward, then pantomimed walking with his fingertips. He then held up one finger.
What the heck was that? Jeffery wondered. T’Parief wanted one of them to go out and attack the Matrian? No shit! The plan was for T’Parief to attack! Why was he telling Jeffery about it, unless there had been a change in plans? Maybe Jeffery was supposed to act as bait? Screw that!
Now Jeffery was shaking his head, pointing to the floor again. Yes, the Matrian was coming here. Was that what he meant? Or maybe Jeffery thought that T’Parief should stay back instead of attacking? What an absurd idea.
Frent walked calmly down the corridor. He knew his task, he knew his duties. Sooner or later one or more of the Starfleeters would show up, and it would be up to him to perform his task.
Still, he wasn’t expecting to simply walk around a corner and run into two Starfleet officers, huddled together making funny little hand gestures and glaring at each other.
“Um,” he stuttered, one hand going instinctively for his weapon.
“Not now, we’re busy!” the shorter, more Matrian-like one snapped.
The larger green one spun around, one huge hand seeming to move almost in slow motion as it came around and caught Frent in the side of the head, sending him down into blackness.
Jeffery threw his hands up, an inquisitive look on his face. T’Parief gestured at the Matrian, then at Jeffery, then-
“WHY ARE WE STILL PLAYING CHARADES???” Jeffery suddenly shouted.
“Let’s see if this one has a weapon,” he said, frisking the unconscious Matrian.
Fifebee stared at the Matrian as he shuddered and convulsed; his breath coming in ragged gasps. Sparing a glance at the Matrian tricorder she held, she thought he was simply recovering from hibernation, but without knowing more about the technology used in the lab she really didn’t know what was happening. Was this the same technology used by the Matrian women during their long slumber? If so, he’d wake up just fine. If not, there might be medical requirements, injections, treatments or therapies that he’d require. She had no med-kit! How could she help the poor man!
A sudden instinct surged through her program.
“Oh, you poor thing!” she cried, reaching for the shivering Matrian and easing him out of the tube and into a chair, “You poor, poor thing! Cooped up in there for so long! Oh, I bet what you really need right now is a hot cup of tea!”
There was a hiss as the door to the lab opened and Valtaic returned.
“Ahh, that feels much better,” he said pleasantly, “Did you know that Old Matrian waste extraction facilities include automated cologne dispensers and a device that cleanses you with a jet of pleasantly warm water?” He took in the sight of Fifebee, hunched over a shivering, naked Matrian and sighed.
“I suspect that at the moment you don’t particularly care about my discoveries,” he said, his energy field flashing slightly in annoyance.
“Get a blanket! Or a med-kit!” Fifebee exclaimed, “This poor man could be dying! Look at the way he’s shaking!”
“He may simply be terrified of the insanely maternal hologram that is getting into his face,” Valtaic said calmly, “Where is your objectivity, by the way?”
Fifebee realized with dismay that yes, her actions since the tube had opened were extremely atypical for her. She completed yet another personality database reset. The surge of emotion faded. Instead of feeling panicked and worried for the man, she now felt a clinical concern for his well-being, along with extreme curiosity.
“I do not know what keeps coming over me,” she said, standing and analyzing the Matrian tricorder readings again, “It is as though the personalities in my database are running rampant. Most likely a programming fault, one I will correct as soon as possible,”
There was a sudden commotion, and a series of hissing sounds. All around them the remainder of the stasis pods were opening, bursts of cold air falling into the room, followed by the whir of machinery as reanimation processes were begun. The ‘advanced’ Matrian looked around in panic, his eyes still unfocused, his expression one of complete confusion.
“Oh dear,” Fifebee muttered.
Jeffery and T’Parief encountered three more Matrians as they ventured towards the control room. Each was stunned before he or she had a chance to raise his or her weapon. There didn’t appear to be any sign of alarm or any other indications that their presence had been reported. Within minutes, the double doors to the command booth were in sight.
“Silverado to Jeffery,” chirped his comm-badge.
“Jeffery here!” Jeffery snapped, hitting the badge, “Jall! Ah’m glad to hear ya! Ah thought ye… How’s the ship? The battle? Me engines!”
“In one piece, taking an intermission, exploded over a week ago due to a virus and shall we say dinner and a movie next Tuesday?” Jall’s voice came back, “And don’t worry, I promise I’ll be gentle,”
“Ah’m not THAT glad to hear from ye, ye fruitcake-“ Jeffery snarled.
“Commander Jall,” T’Parief growled, “We are about to complete an assault on the Matrian rebels that are keeping us within this facility,”
“We will call you back,” T’Parief said.
He cut off the channel.
“One,” T’Parief counted, “Two…THREE!”
He hit the door panel and both he and Jeffery dove through, firing their stolen disruptors (set on stun) in all directions.
“EAT ME SHORTS, M***RF***ERS!” Jeffery screamed.
“I beg your pardon?”
Mistress Juliani, leader of the Matrian rebels, stood calmly behind a force field, completely untouched by the stun blasts.
“He has been watching too much holovision,” T’Parief explained, keeping his weapon pointed at her. Three rebels ran in from behind them. Before they could do anything, T’Parief spun around, shot all three, then returned his attention to Juliani.
“Will you stop that, please?” Juliani asked calmly.
“You wish for me to stop shooting your lackeys, so they may have the chance to shoot me?” T’Parief growled.
“No, you idiot,” Juliani sighed, “I wish for you to stop shooting my ‘lackeys’, as you put it, long enough for one of them to deliver my grakking surrender, dammit!”
Juliani crossed her arms.
“In case you haven’t noticed, a rather large fleet of alien ships is trying to invade our planet!” she snapped, “We were watching what we could of the battle from here, and saw your ship going to great lengths to help defend us, alongside the Senousians.” She looked like she was trying to swallow something that tasted really, really sour, “We decided that maybe the Federation wasn’t such a bad thing after all. Of course, we couldn’t actually communicate our surrender to your ship until the Qu’Eh fleet retreated and the jamming faded, but I would have expected them to have told you by now!”
“So that’s what Jall wanted,” Jeffery said to T’Parief as the latter slowly lowered his weapon. Juliani let the force field drop.
“The Qu’Eh are in retreat?” T’Parief finally asked.
“For now. They are still within the solar system and will undoubtedly be attacking again shortly.” Juliani gestured to one corner of the room, “By the way, you may have your equipment back,”
Jeffery ran over and grabbed his comm-badge, tricorder and engineering kit from the pile of stolen Starfleet gear.
“Come to papa!” he cried, hugging his engineering kit to his chest. He fished around for a comm-badge.
“Jeffery to Stafford,” he called, tapping the badge.
“Jeffery!” Stafford’s voice was relieved, “Thank God! You’re OK?”
“Yeah,” Jeffery said, “The rebels-“
“Surrendered, I know. We got the message about ten minutes ago, when the jamming finally dropped.”
Jeffery started to fill Stafford in on what they’d found, not noticing the look of sudden horror on Juliani’s face.
“That doesn’t matter,” Stafford cut him off, “Look, Jeffery, the Qu’Eh are going to be back for another round, and there are some things that need to be done. Beam back to the ship for now, both of you, but don’t get too comfortable. I have a job for you.”
Fifebee and Valtaic stood helplessly in the center of the lab as male after male tumbled from the stasis tubes, shuddering and moaning.
“It is like a Birthing Center,” Valtaic said nervously, “Only the babies are very large,”
“I dislike babies, and the idea of giving birth,” Fifebee said calmly. Still, part of her felt a brief sense of such longing that she nearly shuddered, “What are we to do? We have no food, nor additional clothing!”
“Perhaps we should attempt to put them back into stasis?” Fifebee mused.
“Probably not a good idea,” Valtaic replied.
One of the Matrians started speaking. To Valtaic, who was without his universal translator, the words were gibberish. Fifebee, however, understood perfectly.
“Where are we? What happened? Is it time for food now?”
“I am Lieutenant Commander Jane Fifebee of the Federation Starship Silverado,” Fifebee said, invoking the standard introduction, “Um, we come in peace, and apologize for any post-hibernation discomfort you may currently be experiencing.”
“Where’s my Captain Mistress underweaer?”
“This room looks funny,”
Replies were coming in from multiple directions as more and more of the Matrians started to recover. Fifebee conveyed some of what was being said to Valtaic.
“I sense,” Valtaic said, “That these Matrians are not the strongest energy field generators in the matrix array,”
“I agree,” Fifebee said, arching an eyebrow.
Her Matrian comm-badge chimed.
“Fifebee!” Jeffery’s voice came back, “Ye OK? Everything good?”
“Good enough,” Fifebee said cautiously.
“Stay where ye are,” Jeffery ordered, “I’m back on the ship, the rebels surrendered, blah blah blah. The Qu’Eh are going to attack again soon, and we have stuff to do. Ah’ll be back shortly!”
“Bring food!” Valtaic called, “And some extra cloths while you’re at it,”
“We’ve hit a complication,” Fifebee quickly explained the situation.
“Uh-oh,” Jeffery muttered, “Well, whatever. See you shortly. Jeffery out,”
“Do you ever get the feeling,” Valtaic asked calmly, “That events are moving too quickly for you to keep track of them?
“Frequently,” Fifebee nodded.
“Ohh! Look at the shiny object!” one of the Matrians exclaimed, pointing to a lab bench and almost running towards the device Fifebee had identified as a gene resequencer.
“No!” Fifebee exclaimed, swatting his hands away. The Matrian looked crestfallen.
“Here, play with this,” she grumbled, tossing a blank padd in his direction. The Matrian looked at her dumbly. Sighing, she pressed the power button on the padd. The Matrian’s face lit up as he saw the bright colours on the screen.
“Yay!” he exclaimed.
Fifebee returned to Valtaic’s side.
“What are they saying now?” he asked.
“It does not matter,” she muttered, “Suffice it to say, we have found a race of Yanicks,”
Valtaic slapped his hand over his face.
“What do you mean you surrendered??” Governess Laurette snapped, “How could you do such a stupid thing?”
“We’re being invaded by aliens,” Juliani shot back, “We can’t afford to be fighting the Federation at the same time! “
“That is MY decision to make,” Laurette shot back, “Not yours! Do you know how hard it was for me to find that installation? The Old Matrians did a very good job of erasing it from existence! And now you’ve practically handed control of it over to Starfleet!”
“They haven’t been able to figure it out any more than I have!” Juliani said.
“They found their way into the Command Tower, which is more than I can say for you!”
“For all the good it did them!” Juliani defended herself, “The whole place is locked down like a vault, Command Tower or not!”
The two women glared at each other for a few moments.
“They did find…unaltered men,” Juliani admitted.
“WHAT???” Laurette screamed.
“There was a stasis room,” Juliani said, “They found the men there and woke them up by accident.”
“No, no, NO!” Laurette slammed her hand down on her console, “Now, listen to me carefully! Give nothing away to the Starfleeters! This Qu’Eh situation is a problem, but I have a plan. And in order for it to work, those men MUST NOT escape that facility!”
“But, what do you want me to do?”
“Stay in contact with me,” Laurette said, “Don’t leave the facility. I don’t have time to fill in the details, but suffice it to say that I’ll be in a much better position to give orders after this whole thing is over with,”
“As you say, Mistress,” Juliani bowed.
“You look funny, mister,”
“Maybe so,” Valtiac said, addressing the somewhat dim-witted Matrian, “But I have something you will never have,”
“Really?” the Matrian looked around, “Is it a cookie?”
“No, it is not a cookie,”
“Is it a puppy?”
“No, it is not a puppy,”
Valtiac briefly considered asking Fifebee to remove the translation matrix she’d added to his Matrian comm-badge.
As Valtaic and the Matrian continued their game of five-hundred questions, Fifebee sat next to the altered Matrian. He was still pale and quivering, though his eyes had finally come into focus.
“I do not understand why the hibernation process is affecting him differently from the others,” she said, partly to Valtaic but mostly to herself.
“What’s your name?” she asked, trying again to speak to the man.
He said nothing, merely staring at her blankly.
“Why are your bio-signs all out of whack?” she muttered, tapping at her borrowed tricorder. His neurotransmitter levels weren’t returning to their proper levels and his blood chemistry was a mess.
“C-Craigen,” he said, his voice still shaky.
“Craigen,” Fifebee replied, her attention switching from the tricorder to the man, “Pleasure to meet you. I apologize for not having a hot cup or tea or a pair of pants handy, but we really weren’t planning on waking you up.”
Craigen looked at her in confusion.
“However,” Fifebee continued, “If I may say so, a man of your physique need not worry about walking around the place nude,”
Craigen said nothing.
“Tough crowd,” Fifebee muttered.
“This place is, like, totally awesome!” Crewman Gibson exclaimed, “It’s like we’re gonna be camping out!”
“Shut up,” Jeffery said, “Yer here to work!”
The two of them had beamed just outside the hanger bay of the Matrian installation. While T’Parief and the security team he’d beamed down with started rounding up the Matrian rebels, Gibson had gone inside and setup an array of transport enhancers. No sooner had he snapped the last one into place then a large pallet of cargo containers materialized on the floor between them.
“The area is secure,” T’Parief reported, “And we have located a convenient storage room in which to lock the Matrian rebels,”
“Great,” Jeffery said. He and Gibson pushed the anti-gravity pallet to one side, just in time for a fresh pallet to materialize, “Ye wanna get somebody to help stoner-boy here while we get Fifebee the stuff she needs?”
“Of course,” T’Parief nodded.
A short time later, they rode the tram through the darkened cavern, several boxes of supplies piled up onto an anti-grav unit. They found Valtaic and Fifebee still in the same lab, Valtiac arguing pointlessly with several of the unaltered Matrians while Fifebee tapped at her tricorder.
“We brought pants,” Jeffery called, by way of introduction.
“Oh, good,” Valtiac said, “I have experienced enough of this…what is the human term? Sausage-fest?”
“Indeed,” T’Parief commented. He started unpacking the supplies they’d brought, much to the delight of the Matrians.
“Stafford to Jeffery,” Stafford’s voice came over the comm.
“How’s it going?”
“We’re workin’ on it,” Jeffery said, “The last of the supplies should be down, Pysternzyks should be beaming the-“
“Hurry up,” Stafford cut him off, “We’re out of time. The Qu’Eh are positioning themselves for another attack run! And I don’t think they’re going to be gentle this time!”
“Why is everybody usin’ that expression today?” Jeffery wondered.
“Just tell me you’re ready to go over there!”
“Aye, we’re ready.”
“Good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a war to run! Stafford out.”
Jeffery and T’Parief exchanged glances.
“Ah think this ‘Minister of Defence’ thing is goin’ to his head,” Jeffery commented.
“Possibly,” T’Parief agreed. He still held one pair of pants in his hand, “Was one of the Matrians killed? I still have garments.”
“Ah don’t think so,” Jeffery said, looking around.
“Pity. I could have used these to mop up the blood,” T’Parief mused.
“Hey, where did Craigen go?” Fifebee asked, looking up from her tricorder.
Two levels up, Craigen pulled himself out of the stairwell, panting. It had taken longer than he would have liked, but he’d gotten away! He wasn’t sure what had happened, or what had been done to him, but he did know one thing: The women wouldn’t catch him this time!