Author: Alan Decker
The constant, soothing rumble of the boat’s engines was interrupted by the sound of heavy doors opening and closing. Captain Christopher Stafford sighed, put the craft on autopilot, and looked down from the flying bridge to see who was entering through the holodeck arch that had appeared on the aft deck of his cabin cruiser.
It was Commander San Jall. Not that long ago the sight of Jall would have immediately put Stafford on edge, wondering just what amazing new way Jall would find to annoy the living hell out of him. But now that Jall was his First Officer, Stafford was finding that he could actually tolerate the man’s presence for several minutes at a time without wanting to resort to physical violence.
“Commander,” Stafford shouted down after the holodeck doors closed and the arch vanished. “Come to relax for a bit?”
“Not quite,” Jall replied as Stafford descended the ladder to the rear deck. He handed a padd to his Captain. “The Starbase 45 quartermaster is threatening to bring us up on charges if you don’t verify that we received all of the supplies and crap that we brought on board while we were there.”
“I’m on the boat.”
“I can see that.”
“No, I’m on the boat. I don’t work when I’m on the boat. No bringing me stuff that can be done later when I’m on the boat,” Stafford said.
“Considering you’ve been ‘on the boat’ for most of the last week, I didn’t have much of a choice,” Jall said. “No. Wait. I could just let Quartermaster Stick-Up-His-Ass file the charges and bring you down. Then I could be Captain. Sorry I bothered you. Carry on, Sailor-boy.”
“Give me that,” Stafford said, snatching the padd out of Jall’s hands. “Stupid bunch of anal-retentive bean-counters and their stupid forms. There!” He shoved the padd back in Jall’s hands. “Now I’m all tense again. Happy?”
“Giddy as a schoolgirl,” Jall said flatly. “I’ll let you get back to your yo-ho-ho-ing.”
Jall stared back at him blankly.
“I’m not a pirate,” Stafford continued. “This is not a pirate ship. This is a ten-meter cabin cruiser. That is not the Caribbean. That is a river.”
“And an oh-so-scenic one,” Jall said as the boat sailed passed a couple of large box-shaped buildings.
“This is what a real river is like,” Stafford shot back. “Did you want something else, Jall?”
“Then have a beer and shut up,” Stafford said, pointing at a cooler tucked up against the bulkhead. “Or feel free to leave.”
“Why the boat?” Jall said, not taking Stafford up on either of his offers.
“What’s wrong with the boat?”
“Aside from the drab and boring parts?”
“I like it.”
“We can tell. You’ve barely left. I just don’t get it.”
Stafford was ready to shout something back at Jall along the lines of not caring if Jall got it or not, but he caught himself, sighed, and stepped over to the cooler, yanking two beers out.
“I’m relaxing while I can,” Stafford said, twisting open one of the caps and handing the open bottle to Jall. Jall grimaced at the offered beverage but took it anyway. “Hopefully everyone else is doing the same.”
“No more so than usual,” Jall said after downing a sip. His grimace turned to an all-out wince. What was this swill?
“The thing about heading out into the unknown is that it’s unknown. You have no idea what you’re going to run into. Could be a planet of talking unicorns and cotton candy trees. Could be a planet of two-meter tall rat-things that like to rip out your intestines and use them as party banners. You just don’t know. It’s not like cruising around the Federation delivering cargo and ferrying VIPs to a bunch of planets we know everything about. It’s…unknown.”
“Um…is this about the mission?” Jall asked.
“Yeah. Of course it’s about the mission.”
“But we know where we’re going. We’ve been there before.”
“That’s exactly my point. We KNOW! And we KNOW it’s not going to be a milk run. It will very likely suck…a lot. I can’t say that to the rest of the crew because I’m Captain and there’s morale to think about, but come on, Jall. No one wants to go back to Matria. Doctor Wowryk, maybe, but nobody else! But there’s nothing we can do. Orders are orders. So before we get to Matria and several months of hell, I am relaxing all I can. If you or anyone else care to join me, the boat’s always open.”
“I’ll keep it in mind. Sylvia, could I get the arch please?”
“Here you go, dear,” the voice of the Silverado’s sentient computer system replied as the arch materialized.
Jall took a last look around at the surroundings. An old Earth automobile was driving on the road running along the riverbank. Several rundown houses passed by. “You get back to your…um…relaxing.”
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” Stafford said, settling onto a cushioned bench running along the side of the boat.
“I’ll let it keep its mystery,” Jall said before stepped out into the corridor. Before the holodeck doors even had time to close, Lieutenant Commander Simon Jeffrey stepped through onto the boat deck.
“Simon!” Stafford called out warmly. “You’re just in time!”
“Time? For what?” Jeffrey asked confused.
“Er…maybe later. Ah need to talk to ye about the mission.”
“Looks like we’re moving into a more populated area,” Stafford said.
“More buildings,” Stafford said, pointing at the shore beyond.
“Where are we?”
“Some river. Just started this one a little while ago. Third one today.”
“Sounds…nice. About the mission…”
“Do we have to talk about this now?”
“Ah’d really feel better about going back into Matrian space if we were a bit better prepared. What we took on at Starbase 45 was fine, but if we’re really going to be out there alone, we need to be more than fine. We’re going to be at Waystation in a few hours, and that’s our last chance to get supplies before we’re out of luck.”
“Is that the list?” Stafford asked, gesturing toward the padd in Jeffrey’s hand.
“Let me see it,” Stafford said resigned. He took the padd from Jeffrey and looked it over. Most of it was what he would expect: more torpedoes, backup phaser arrays, backup shield generators, additional replicator systems and raw material tanks. But then he hit…
“Seventy-five casks of rum?”
“Steven was worried about morale,” Jeffrey explained. “If we lose replicators, he wants to make sure Unbalanced Equations is still able to serve us.”
“Rum gives me a stomach ache.”
“He knows. There’s something on there for ye, too.”
“Wine coolers? Simon…”
“Those are for Jall.”
“Oh. Okay. Vodka. Beer. Tequila. I hope Waystation’s got a distillery on board.”
“So Ah can send the requisition request ahead?” Simon asked as the boat rocked a bit.
“Yeah,” Stafford replied. The boat was now getting bounced around pretty good. “Rapids? Here?”
“Eh?” Jeffrey asked.
“Rapids!” Stafford repeated loudly. It was getting hard to hear between the rumble of the engines and the growing roar of the…
Wait. Growing roar? There shouldn’t be a growing roar!
Stafford scrambled up the ladder back to the flying bridge. The water was definitely rough…most likely due to the large drop-off up ahead. Stafford’s head darted around. Even though the buildings were from a few centuries earlier, Stafford knew this place. And he knew exactly where the boat was heading:
“End program!” Stafford said in a panic as Jeffrey reached the top of the ladder to the flying bridge and looked around.
“Bloody hell!” Jeffrey shouted, barely audible above the din of the falls.
“END PROGRAM! END PROGRAM! END! END! END!” Stafford cried.
The boat reached the crest of the falls.
“SYLVIA!” Stafford and Jeffrey screamed.
The screaming continued all the way down.
FIVE HOURS LATER…
“I’m still wet.”
“It was holographic water. There can’t be a drop left on ye.”
“I feel wet.”
“Did ye piss yourself?”
Stafford glared at Jeffrey as the turbolift they were in continued on it ascent to the bridge.
“Just asking,” Jeffrey said, forcing back a chuckle.
“I thought we were beyond this.”
“I was joking with ye.”
“Not you. Me and Jall. We’ve actually been creating something resembling a working relationship, and then he goes and pulls this.”
“Ye don’t know that. Maybe ye picked the wrong river.”
Stafford’s glare deepened. “I didn’t pick the river. I’ve been running several of them. Jall knew that. He must have switched us to the Niagara after he left the holodeck.”
“He likes to torment me.”
“Ah know that,” Jeffrey said. “But he saw me going in. We get along fine. He could wait to torture you until after Ah left.”
If it had been physically possible, Stafford’s glare would have left his face, traveled over to Jeffrey, and smacked him around a bit. Before Stafford had a chance to consider handling the job himself, the turbolift slowed to a halt and opened out onto the bridge.
Stafford had made it about three steps when…
“Captain!” Lieutenant Trish Yanick cried, leaping up from the helm console and racing over to him. “I heard what happened, and I’m SOOOO sorry!”
“It was just a holodeck…accident,” Stafford said, shooting a nasty glance at Jall, who was shifting from the command chair to his usual seat.
“But I knew how much you liked that trip we took to Toronto and with you taking all of those river trips, I thought you’d like one in that area, and Niagara Falls is supposed to be really neat, so I snuck in a program sending you up to the falls, but I didn’t realize that that river goes south to north and not north to south. Most rivers up there go north to south, so instead of taking you to the base of the falls, you went over them, and I’m REALLY sorry.”
Stafford processed the flood of words coming from Yanick for a moment. “Wait. That was your fault?”
“Yeah. I’m sorry. I thought you’d like it, but…”
“It’s okay, Yanick,” Stafford said, holding his hands up. “No harm done. That’s why we have holodeck safeties. And some ships even have computers that actually end programs when they’re told to.”
Sylvia materialized beside Stafford, her arms crossed disapprovingly. “I can’t help you if I can’t hear you. You’re the one who got into trouble somewhere noisy.”
“It wasn’t my idea!” Stafford said.
Sylvia harrumphed and vanished.
“Maybe I should just stay off of the holodeck,” Stafford said
“It does seem to get ye into trouble,” Jeffrey observed. “And ye usually take me down with you.”
“Who’s going down?” Jall asked, sounding way too chipper. He may not have been responsible for Stafford’s trip over Niagara Falls, but he was certainly enjoying it.
“Are we there yet?” Stafford asked, ignoring his First Officer.
“About five more minutes, sir,” Yanick said, sliding back into her seat at the conn.
“All stations prepare for docking,” Stafford said. “T’Parief, hail Waystation.”
“They are responding,” the deep voice of Silverado’s Tactical Officer replied a few moments later from Commander T’Parief’s post behind the command area.
Stafford quickly stood up, straightened his uniform, and ran his fingers through his hair to give it that slightly ruffled yet controlled look he thought made him look his best. He wanted to be ready when he saw Waystation’s Commanding Officer, Captain Lisa Beck, again. The last time Silverado visited, Beck may have gotten the wrong idea about him after one of their conversations. Actually Stafford hadn’t been involved in said conversation. His body was, but it was being occupied by Yanick at the time, thanks to the after-effects of their first mission to Matria.
“On screen,” Stafford ordered, now appropriately quaffed. The warm “Hello, Captain Beck!” he was planning died on his lips as the starfield image on the viewscreen was replaced with the face of Waystation’s male First Officer, Commander Walter Morales. Stafford immediately deflated.
“Waystation, this is Captain Chris Stafford of Silverado requesting docking clearance,” he said flatly.
“Acknowledged, Silverado. You are clear for docking at Arm Four,” Morales replied.
“Four? We usually park at Arm Three?”
“Are they complaining?” a female voice asked from off-screen. Captain Lisa Beck stepped into view. “Stafford, do you think we keep a parking space reserved for you? You can’t use Arm Three. We’ve got a yacht docked there that’s too big to fit into Waypoint Harbor.”
“Obviously you don’t talk to your relatives.”
“Don’t ask,” Beck said. “Now are you going to give me a hassle about Arm Four?”
Stafford grinned. “No, Captain. The change of scenery will be nice.”
“Oh yeah. That side of the station gets all the best views,” Beck replied, rolling her eyes. “I just wanted to let you know that Starfleet Command routed their response to your request for additional supplies to me.”
“Excellent,” Jeffrey said, moving down beside Stafford. “How long will it take to get everything to us?”
“No time at all,” Beck said.
“Ah wouldn’t have minded a delay, but we’ll take it all the same.”
“It’s no time at all because they refused your request,” Beck said.
“Refused?” Jeffrey said angrily. “How could they…”
“Calm down, Simon,” Stafford said. “I’m sure we can get together with Captain Beck and discuss it.”
“You could, but it won’t help,” Beck said. “This came straight from Fleet Admiral Ra’al’s office. It wasn’t my call.”
“True,” Stafford said slowly, his mind racing for a legitimate excuse to meet with Beck, “But we could…”
“You could slow down before you hit my station,” Beck said quickly.
“Oh! Sorry!” Yanick said, quickly turning her attention back to the conn. “I was busy watching you two flirt.”
“We were not flirting!” Beck said firmly. “Waystation out!” Beck’s face vanished and was replaced by an eternal view of Waystation.
And it was really really close!
“Yanick!” Stafford cried, diving back into his seat to brace himself.
“We’re stopping! Sheesh!” Yanick said. Silverado had indeed come to a halt. Right next the station, judging by the viewscreen, which was looking right into a set of quarters on Waystation where a wide-eyed man in a Starfleet uniform was staring back at them in stunned terror.
“All stop,” Yanick reported, back to her usual cheery self.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Stafford said.
“Oooh!” Yanick exclaimed with a clap.
“She likes it when you say her new rank,” T’Parief explained.
“I’m getting that,” Stafford said. “Well…Yanick, would you please back us off a little and bring us around to docking arm four.”
“Yes, sir,” Yanick said. Gradually, the Ambassador-class starship pulled away from Waystation’s lower saucer, then rose in a spiral toward the docking arms, passing an Andorian cruiser and an impressive yacht before arriving at Arm Four, which had been extended from the station’s upper saucer. There was an almost imperceptible jolt as the ship came to a halt and the airlock at the end of the docking arm sealed against Silverado’s gangway hatch.
“All right, everyone,” Stafford said. “You’ve got two days until Starfleet wants us out of here. Make the most of them.”
The bridge crew secured their stations and started for the turbolifts. As Jall moved to get up from his chair, Stafford held up a hand to stop him. “A word, Commander?”
“What is it?” Jall asked conspiratorially. “Are we here for more than just a layover?”
“Then I’ve got to go. Waystation is awaitin’”
“Ahhh…I’m going to need you stay here,” Stafford said.
“Here? What the hell for?” Jall demanded before adding a forced, “Sir.”
“We’re expecting deliveries.”
“No, we aren’t. Starfleet didn’t approve the requisition.”
“For the additional supplies. True. But we’re still getting the subspace relay, and…some other things. Since you’re First Officer, personnel and supplies are in your purview. That means you get to take delivery.”
“Fine! I’ll be here when the boxes arrive. When is that going to be?”
“The items should be here between the hours of 0600 hours today and 1900 hours tomorrow.”
“THAT was the delivery window they gave you?”
“At least they narrowed it down a little,” Stafford said, getting up and heading toward the turbolift. “The ship is yours, Commander.”
“Yee-fucking-haa,” Jall muttered, slouching deeper into his chair.
“Have you ever been to Waystation?” Yanick asked as she strolled along the lower concourse of Starfleet Square Mall, the two-story shopping venue in Waystation’s upper saucer.
“No,” Lieutenant Riven Valtaic replied. This was not a “No” that translated to “No, but I’m really excited to be here,” or “No. Do you want to make something of it?” This was a strictly-informational “No,” with just a hint of “Why are you asking me this?”
The bigger question for Valtaic was why Yanick was there to ask him the question at all. The Lithinarian had joined Silverado at Starbase 45 as a replacement for the departed Lieutenant Commander Johnson at Operations, and after the initial attempts by the crew to get to know a little about him, he had expected to be allowed to do his job and spend his free time as he saw fit.
Lieutenant Yanick, however, was not to be denied. She seemed determined to befriend him and, in this case, show him around Waystation, whether he or her hulking hybrid boyfriend T’Parief liked it or not.
Judging by the deep scowl and crossed arms T’Parief was displaying at the moment as he walked with them, Valtaic could only conclude that he was on the side of not liking the current state of affairs.
Valtaic, as was the nature of his species, had been completely honest to Yanick that he did not need nor did he desire companionship during his visit to the station. Somehow Yanick seemed to believe that “Don’t be silly” was a sufficient counter-argument to this and practically shoved him to the head of the line of Silverado crew that had been lined up to disembark from the ship through the gangway, bumping many of them as he went. His growing irritation caused a reflexive electric surge (another part of his species’ nature) as he bumped into Ensign Dar’ugal, effectively turning the hair-covered Baruda officer into a giant red puffball from the resulting static electricity.
Now out of the ship and in the mall, Valtaic had hoped that Yanick might either take the hint or grow bored and leave him in peace. Obviously, though, he had underestimated her enthusiasm and her never ending supply of pointless babble.
“…and that’s Nandegar’s Secret. Pari and I like that store, don’t we, Pari?”
“He’s shy about these things, but it’s a great place. They even sell stuff for men. There had this really cool pair of tear-away bikini briefs that I bought for Jall’s birthday when we were here last time. And they had this shimmering fabric that… OOOH! The hoverrink!” Yanick pointed excitedly down the concourse at Waystation’s anti-gravity skating facility. “Have you ever been hover-skating? You’ve got to go! Come on!”
Without a thought that Valtaic might refuse, Yanick grabbed his arm with one hand, T’Parief’s with the other, and dragged them both with surprising force to the hoverrink entrance.
A short time later, Valtaic was starting to wonder if Yanick had some powers of her own. Despite the fact that he had never hover-skated and had no interest in ever hover-skating, there he was, fumbling along the hoverrink, put there seemingly by the mere force of Yanick’s will. Unfortunately her will did not have the ability to teach him to hover-skate. Rather than skating, he was shuffling along, certain that at any moment, he would topple over, leaving his anti-grav-skated feet high in the air while his head and everything else hit the rink.
Even more aggravating was that fact that T’Parief, whom Valtaic expected to be suffering as much as he was, was currently gliding alongside Yanick with graceful ease. A spark of irritation flashed on his forehead. Whereas for some people this spark would be figurative, for Valtaic is was quite literal.
Several more mini-electric bursts erupted across his skin as he struggled through another lap.
“You’re doing great!” Yanick exclaimed as she and T’Parief sailed by again, hand-in-hand.
That was the breaking point. The humiliation of this public display of his lack of skating ability was bad enough, but then Yanick had to come by with that dishonest attempt to encourage him. Unable to control his rage anymore, Valtaic released a huge blast of power.
This was a bad idea.
The electrical force surged into his hover-skates, increasing their anti-grav effects by an order of magnitude, the effect of which sent him rocketing skyward like…well…a rocket.
“OH!” Yanick cried. “I’m sorry! I meant you stink at this! You really stink!”
But it was far too late. Valtaic sailed upward in a long arc, past the railing of the food court on the upper level of Starfleet Square Mall and out over the main concourse two decks below him. Actually, it was a bit more than two decks considering the mall’s high ceilings and the altitude he was gaining in flight. It hardly mattered, though. All Valtaic could think in panicked thoughts was that landing was going to hurt.
He reached the apex of his flight and began his descent. The situation being what it was, Valtaic resorted to the only course of action available to him: screaming.
Before he even made it halfway back down, a pair of strong arms locked around his waist from behind.
“I’ve got you,” a deep female voice said in his ear as his plummeting stopped.
“You’ve got me?” Valtaic said in shock. “Who’s got you?”
“Don’t do that.”
Seconds later, he touched down gently onto the deck of the lower mall concourse and was released by his savior. Valtaic spun around and found himself staring into a pair of large round eyes. The eyes belonged to a woman of an avian species wearing a Starfleet uniform modified to fit her frame.
“You are unharmed, I trust,” the woman said through a beaked mouth as the pair of golden feathered wings on her back folded up behind her.
“Y-y-y-yes,” Valtaic stammered. Whoever this creature was, she was magnificent!
“Good. Whatever you did, don’t do it again. It was stupid and would, under most circumstances, have gotten you killed.”
Magnificent, and honest! Brutally so!
“Thank you!” Valtaic said, extending his hand to her. “I am Riven. Riven Valtaic, at your service.”
“Doctor Diantha,” the avian replied, eying him coolly. She finally accepted his outstretched hand. In his excitement at touching her, a reflexive zap of energy flowed out of his hand. Instantly, she jerked her hand back, several fried feathers from her wrist dropping to the deck as she did so.
“I am so sorry!” he said horrified.
“I would hope so,” Diantha said, giving him one last glare before she strode off in the direction of Waystation’s infirmary.
Valtaic sighed as he watched her go. What a woman!
“Did ye see that?” Jeffrey exclaimed turning to his dining companions at the table in the food court of Starfleet Square Mall. “Leapt right over the railing, she did! And those wings!”
“She is a Keetooan,” Doctor Noel Wowryk said unimpressed. “Wings are a natural part of her species. If something like that can be called natural.”
“Looks like she saved Valtaic,” Captain Stafford said, craning his neck to see what was transpiring on the lower concourse. “Guess you won’t have to patch him back up after all, Doctor.”
“I would leave that for the Waystation medical personnel,” Wowryk replied.
“Your concern for the crew is touching.”
“I am on leave.”
“It’s a layover. Not a vacation.”
“Can we talk about our real problem?” Jeffrey asked.
“We have a real problem?” Stafford said.
“The extra supplies.”
“I don’t think that a lack of liquor qualifies as a real problem, Simon,” Wowryk said.
“It wasn’t just that. We need more weapons…”
“So you can kill more effectively? There are other ways.”
“And the extra raw materials for the replicators…”
“So the crew can be even more gluttonous?”
“And the medical supplies…”
Wowryk paused. “Those could be useful.”
“Particularly after we get shot to hell because we don’t have enough torpedoes,” Stafford said, drawing a glare from the doctor. “I mean heck. Shot to heck. Sorry. But I don’t see what we can do about it. When the Fleet Admiral says no, the answer is no.”
“Unless we go over her head,” Jeffrey said with a hint of a grin.
“I’m listening,” Stafford said, leaning in conspiratorially.
“Well, it occurs to me that there’s someone on this very station with a wee bit more power than a Fleet Admiral.”
“President Dillon,” Stafford said, understanding.
“Operation Salvage was his pet project,” Jeffrey continued. “It’d be in his interests to help us out.”
“I love it! Let’s go see him!”
“You’re joking, right?” Wowryk said. “You can’t honestly think that you’ll be able to see THE President Bradley Dillon just because you want to? A man of his stature and importance has far more important things on his mind than your petty supply requisition. He is the leader of our government! A captain of industry! A truly magnificent example of humanity sent by the grace of God to lead us!”
Stafford and Jeffrey exchanged a look.
“Um…so you’re a fan then?” Stafford said.
“Ah think she’s got a crush,” Jeffrey said.
“I do not!” Wowryk protested. “I just give my leaders the respect they deserve!”
“That’s news to me,” Stafford said.
“Respect they DESERVE,” Wowryk repeated. “And Bradley Dillon has dignity and strength that neither of you will ever understand. I have every faith that the people of the Federation see that in him, and that the Lord will ensure that he will be re-elected easily.”
“If he bothers to show up for the next debate,” Stafford muttered. The President, who was currently embroiled in a rather heated campaign for re-election against Kathryn Janeway, had missed the first scheduled debate between the candidates several weeks ago. No one was sure why Bradley Dillon had been absent, but people were more than happy to fill in the gaps with rampant speculation. The President’s lead in the polls had taken a serious hit from the event though, and was only beginning to recover slightly thanks to his extermination of a possibly-threatening nanite species that had attacked Waystation a short time before Silverado’s arrival.
“You will see, Captain,” Wowryk said, crossing her arms disapprovingly. “You will see. Bradley Dillon WILL be President again!”
“Uh huh,” Stafford replied distractedly. His attention had been drawn to the tall redhead currently exiting the Beanus Coffee Hut at the edge of the food court. “You two figure it out. I…gotta go.” And with that, Stafford was up and running.
“So Ah’m betting ye would love to meet our wonderful president,” Jeffrey said to Wowryk once Stafford had gone.
“Of course I would, but…”
“Excellent! Let’s go to his office!”
“Simon! You can’t…”
“Why not? The worst that can happen is that we won’t get in to see him. But at least ye will have been there. And who knows, ye might even catch a glimpse of the man in person.”
She thought about this for a moment. “Oh, all right. It won’t hurt to try.”
“That’s the spirit.” Jeffrey said as they stood up from the table.
Wowryk suddenly turned on him. “But if I get to talk to President Dillon, you stay away. Understand?”
Jeffrey sighed. “Aye. Ah understand.”
Down the concourse, Stafford jogged up to his coffee-carrying quarry: Captain Lisa Beck. “I was hoping I would run into you,” he said as casually as possible as he fell into step beside her.
“Then you should have been a foot to the left,” Beck said.
Stafford frowned. “A foot to the…”
“If you’d been a foot to the left when you ran up, you would have actually run into me and…never mind. I should just leave the snappy comebacks to Porter. And you should find another conn officer. You almost hit my station.”
“Yanick’s gotten a lot better,” Stafford protested.
“Tell that to Ensign Shust. She about put him in the Infirmary when she stopped your ship outside his quarters. JUST outside his quarters.”
“There was no real damage done.”
“Except to Shust’s pants. Look, Captain…”
“Chris,” Stafford corrected.
“Chris, I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got an appointment I’m almost late for, and I absolutely cannot be late.”
“But you can’t be late. This is your station. Whenever you show up is on time.”
“Tell that to Madam M’szousaklos.”
“Medusan. She runs the spa, and she doesn’t care who I am. If I’m five seconds late, I lose my slot, and I’ve been waiting for an appointment with their new masseuse for months.”
“A Medusan masseuse. Huh.”
“Actually this one is from somewhere else. Somewhere exotic. I don’t remember where. But it means I could skip the blindfold during the appointment if I wanted. Not that I would. It’s nice to shut the universe out sometimes, don’t you think?”
“Yeah,” Stafford said, thinking back to his holographic boat. “It is…until the falls.”
“Nothing. I don’t want to make you late…”
“No, you don’t,” Beck said flatly.
“But I think you may have gotten the wrong idea last time we were here.”
“I didn’t get any ideas,” Beck said as they reached the entrance to the spa. “I’ve got to go.”
“Oh. Okay. I’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Beck said noncommittally as she stepped through the doors. “Enjoy your visit.”
“I like girls!” Stafford shouted after her, stopping all mall traffic around him. “I mean women! I love women! Love them!”
Beck smiled weakly. “A little less desperate next time,” she said, then disappeared into the spa as Stafford gathered up the shreds of his dignity and retreated off down the concourse.
While Dillon Enterprises took up three full decks of Waystation, finding Bradley Dillon’s office suite was incredibly easy. It was the only section of the decks that allowed unauthorized visitors to even step out of a turbolift.
Even then, the area wasn’t exactly inviting, what with blue-suited agents of the presidential security team, the Special Secret Section, stationed everywhere. Ignoring the suspicious glares of the agents, Jeffrey and Wowryk entered the lobby area of President Dillon’s office suite, where his personal assistant, Gisele, sat at a massive desk that seemed more like a command console than a work area.
“…in a meeting at the moment,” Gisele was saying into the comm piece fitted into her ear. “I will certainly let him know that you commed, Chancellor….Oh yes, he did receive your birthday gift, and he thanks you very much. I believe he said that it’s his first bat’leth….Quapla to you as well. Goodbye!”
Gisele turned her attention to the newcomers. “May I help you?” she asked sweetly.
“Ye certainly can,” Jeffrey said, smiling as broadly as possible. “We were hoping that we might be able to have a word with President Dillon.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Ahhh well…we just arrived, ye see, and we thought…”
“Not to be rude, Lieutenant Commander…”
“Jeffrey. Simon Jeffrey. And this is Doctor Noel Wowryk. We’re with the USS Silverado.”
“Uh…huh,” Gisele said frowning. “Well, Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey, as you can well imagine, President Dillon is an exceptionally busy man.”
“Of course he is,” Wowryk said. “He is single-handedly leading the Federation while also running one of the greatest business enterprises in the quadrant. We’re sorry to have bothered you. Come ON, Simon.”
“But…” Jeffrey began
“We tried. We’re done.”
The set of dark wooden doors off behind Gisele’s left slid open, clearing the way for a leggy blond in a matching skirt and suitcoat to come storming out of President Dillon’s office.
“I think I saw him!” Wowryk exclaimed, craning her neck to get a better view just as the doors closed.
“Enjoy it while you can,” the woman who had just joined them muttered. She stopped, looking Wowryk and Jeffrey up and down. “Gisele, what are they doing here?” she demanded.
“They wanted to see Mister Dillon, but they didn’t have an appointment, Ms. Lymon.”
“Donna Lymon. Campaign manager,” the woman said crisply, extending a hand to Jeffrey and then to Wowryk. “Either of you ever serve under Kathryn Janeway?”
Jeffrey and Wowryk shook their heads.
“Too bad,” Lymon said. “We’ll have to figure out something else. Here,” she pulled two ‘Re-Elect Bradley Dillon’ buttons out of her pocket and handed them to the Silverado officers before striding out of the office.
“So…is he available now?” Jeffrey asked.
“No,” Gisele said.
“We’ll be going now,” Wowryk said. “Thank you for your time.”
“You’re welcome. Have a good day!”
“Did she just kick us out?” Jeffrey asked once they were out in the hall.
“We shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Wowryk said.
“Ah well,” Jeffrey said, ignoring Wowryk. “At least she was sweet about it. But the direct approach obviously isn’t going to work.”
“I told you as much,” Wowryk said as the pair stepped into the elevator. “Wait. You’re not going to try something else, are you?”
“Ah have absolutely no idea.”
“Keep it that way.”
For the rest of the day and into the evening, Jeffrey did exactly that, not that he was too happy about it. Unfortunately, the President of the Federation was not somebody that you just happened to run into.
Worried that Jeffrey was becoming a wee bit obsessed with stalking President Dillon, Captain Stafford dragged the engineer along with him that night to Waystation’s dance club, The Gravity Well.
“This is nice,” Jeffrey said as they sat in one of the circular booths along the wall watching the action on the dance floor. “Thanks for bringing me. Now why am Ah really here?”
Stafford sputtered into his drink. “Wha…what do you mean?” Stafford coughed.
“Ye haven’t looked at me or Noel since we sat down with ye,” Jeffrey replied. “Ye have, however, been watching the door.”
“Do you wish to leave, Captain?” Dr. Wowryk asked before taking a sip of her Virgin Bloody Mary. “It would certainly be the sensible thing to do considering this display of…debauchery.”
“There’s been debauchery?” Stafford asked, his head whipping toward the dance floor. “Where? Did I miss it?”
Wowryk began muttering under her breath. Stafford couldn’t make any of it out over the thumping music, but he was fairly certain the words ‘disgusting male’ were involved. He looked back toward the entrance.
“And he’s looking at the doors again,” Jeffrey said.
“Sorry,” Stafford said, not that there was a hint of real apology in his voice or any attempt to stop watching the doors.
“Does this have anything to do with why you ran off at lunch?” Wowryk asked.
“No…yes…maybe a little. I was looking for Captain Beck.”
“Will she be looking for ye as well?” Jeffrey asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe. I doubt it.”
“Using the old Stafford charm, eh?”
“And it’s working about as well as usual,” Jeffrey said.
“Thanks. Very encouraging.”
“Well, while ye’re off chasing the station commander, we’ve been trying to supply the ship.”
“Don’t make it sound like I’m neglecting my duties,” Stafford said. “We’re fully stocked.”
“You were all for this at lunch.”
“Until his hormones took over,” Wowryk said.
“I’m still all for it,” Stafford said. “I just…trust you to handle it.”
“Of course ye do,” Jeffrey replied sarcastically. “But we could use yer advice on how to best chase down the leader of the free quadrant.”
“What is he doing here?” Stafford demanded suddenly, watching the entrance.
“The President is here?” Wowryk exclaimed, practically climbing over Stafford to get a view.
“Not Dillon. Jall,” Stafford spat. Sure enough, Silverado’s First Officer was dancing his way to their table, decked out in a loose fitting light blue silk shirt and skin-tight white leather pants.
“And a good evening to you all,” Jall said smiling.
“You’re supposed to be on the ship, Commander,” Stafford said.
“I was. Now I’m not. Mission accomplished.”
“Signed for and stowed away. Even your special box.”
“Ye got a special box?” Jeffrey asked Stafford.
“Even the subspace relay?”
“It’s aboard. It’s all aboard,” Jall said. “And I even tipped the delivery man.” Jall grinned. “Or he tipped me, if you know what I’m saying.”
“Can I pretend really hard that I don’t?” Stafford said grimacing.
“Something really hard was indeed involved.”
“Okay!” Stafford shouted, holding up his hands. “I don’t want to hear any more. Thank you for your service.”
“Someone got serv…”
“Aye aye, Captain,” Jall said. “You all watch the zero gravity part of the dance floor. If you think I’ve got great moves normally, just wait until you see me fly!” Mercifully, Jall did what he was told, leaving Stafford, Jeffrey, and Wowryk alone.
“Can we get back to President Dillon?” Jeffrey asked.
“Vat about President Dillon?” Counselor Yvonnokoff had just stepped up to the table.
“Nothing, Counselor,” Stafford said with a sigh. “Did you need something, or are you here to counsel us to have more fun?”
“I saw Mister Jall arrive. You told me he vould be vatching for my subspace relay!” Yvonnokoff said.
“It’s on board. And, just to clarify, it’s not YOUR relay. We will all be using it to communicate with Command while we’re in Matrian space.”
“But The Vonna Show…”
“Will broadcast,” Stafford said. “We wouldn’t want to disappoint your audience of…whatever people watch your show.”
“Many people vatch my show!” Yvonnokoff said in a huff. “If they did not, do you think I vould be able to get President Dillon as a guest?”
“Dillon is going to be on yer show?” Jeffrey exclaimed.
“Yes. That is vy I asked vat you ver saying about him. I vanted to make sure nothing had happened to alter his plans for tomorrow.”
Wowryk was near apoplectic. “He…you…You’re going to be interviewing President Dillon! In person!”
“Yes. He is evidently a fan.”
“Kind of knocks yer opinion of him down a bit, eh Noel?” Jeffrey said.
“Shut it, Simon!” Wowryk turned back to Yvonnokoff. “This is just a way for him to reach more voters. I am sure that he has better things to do than watch you counsel the hopeless.”
“The hopeless?” Yvonnokoff said. “So you vill be calling in tomorrow then?” She and Wowryk glared at each other for a moment, then Yvonnokoff spun on her heel and strode off into the crowd.
“Ye could have maybe been a little nicer, Noel,” Jeffrey said. “She might have invited us to see the show in person.”
“I don’t care.”
Jeffrey sighed. “Of course ye don’t. But at least we know where President Dillon is going to be at some point tomorrow. All we have to do is catch him on his way in or out.”
“Take a big net,” Stafford said.
“Are you trying to get us killed by the Special Secret Section?” Wowyk said.
“I was joking!”
“Well, stop! I’m going to bed. Good night!” Wowryk slid out of the booth and stormed out of the dance club.
“What’s with her?” Stafford asked.
“Not sure,” Jeffrey said. “Ah think she might be jealous.”
“That, my friend, is sad. Truly sad,” Stafford said, taking a sip of his drink.
Jeffrey, who was trying not to think about Wowryk mooning over Bradley Dillon, forced himself to nod. “Aye. Sad.”
“Chris? Chris. Wake up, dear.”
“Unnnh. What do you want, Sylvia?” Stafford groaned from under his blanket.
“There’s a comm for you from Commander Morales on the station,” Silverado’s matronly computer replied.
“Take a message.”
“He says he needs to speak to you now; otherwise, I would have let you sleep. I’m sure you need it, considering how late you were out last night. Zero-three hundred hours? Really, Chris. You’re the Captain.”
“Just put him through!” Stafford snapped, cutting Sylvia off as he yanked himself to a sitting position and pulled the small desk console on his nightstand around so he could see it. The Federation logo on the console screen switched to show Commander Walter Morales standing in Waystation’s Operations Center.
“Captain Stafford,” Morales said. “We need you in Ops, sir.”
“Now? What for?”
“We’ve got a security situation, Captain.”
Stafford jolted alert at Morales’ words. “I’ll be right there,” he said. “Stafford out.” He had no clue what was going on, but ‘security situation’ never connoted anything good. And if Morales wanted Stafford, it had to be something to do with Silverado, which was also not good. On the bright side, it would give him another excuse to speak to Captain Beck.
First, though, he had to look and act like a professional.
“Sylvia, have T’Parief meet me at the gangway in five minutes,” he said, heading into his sonic shower. “Looks like Captain Beck needs our help.”
“Don’t get your hopes up, dear.”
There she was.
Sitting alone at a table in the food court. This was the perfect opportunity.
For some people, the next step would be to buy breakfast at one of the various food court eateries and use that as an explanation for their presence in the food court. That sort of subterfuge was considered completely unnecessary by Lieutenant Valtaic, however. In fact it never even crossed his mind.
Instead, he stepped right up to Dr. Diantha’s table and, without preamble or greeting, sat down across from her.
“I hoped I would find you here this morning,” he said.
“And you did,” Diantha said, seemingly nonplussed by his abrupt arrival.
“I have thought about you a great deal since our encounter yesterday, and I would like to take you to dinner.”
“You are suggesting a date.”
“Very well.” Valtaic rose quickly from his head and headed off down the concourse, stealing a look back at Diantha as he went. Somehow after rejecting him, she seemed even more magnificent.
T’Parief stared down at Stafford as the two of them rode the turbolift up to Ops. He hadn’t spoken for several seconds.
“What?” Stafford demanded finally. “I told you all I know!”
“That is exactly my problem. This is a security situation,” T’Parief said.
“That’s what Morales told me.”
“And you didn’t ask for the details.”
“I was in a hurry.”
“But it involves us.”
“I guess so. Why else would Morales comm me?”
“I am not aware of any security situations involving Silverado or Silverado personnel,” T’Parief said.
“Then this will be news to both of us,” Stafford said. The turbolift slowed to a stop and the doors opened, allowing Stafford and T’Parief to step out into Waystation’s command center.
The turbolift shaft was at the center of the circular Ops, and, upon exiting, the first thing visible was the large window looking out into space. The window frame was also the frame of the holographic viewscreen, which covered the stars outside whenever it was activated. Off to the right was the Operations and Science console, which was manned by Lieutenant Commander Craig Porter, and beyond it was the door to Captain Beck’s office, partially obscured by the curve of Ops. To the left was the Docking Control console, manned by Commander Morales, and the Tactical console, where Lieutenant Commander Sean Russell stood, beyond which lay the entrances to the Ops briefing room and the head.
Stafford was met by Morales as soon as he left the turbolift. “Captain,” he said quickly.
“Commander Morales,” Stafford replied with a nod. “This is Commander T’Parief, my Chief of Security. What’s going on?”
“We have a bit of a situation,” Morales began.
“So you’ve said,” T’Parief replied.
“Captain Beck is missing.”
“She’s what?” Stafford exclaimed.
“Gone,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said, striding over from Tactical. “And from what we’ve been told, you were the last person seen with her.”
“Me? I haven’t talked to her since yesterday afternoon!” Stafford said.
“Neither has anyone else,” Russell said.
“And you’re just noticing this now?”
“We don’t usually butt in to the Captain’s off hours,” Lieutenant Commander Porter said.
“We didn’t discover she was gone until she missed the morning staff meeting,” Morales said. “We’ve scanned every inch of the station and every ship currently docked here, and we can’t find her. Presuming that President Dillon didn’t take her…”
“Why would he take her?” T’Parief asked.
“Long story. And we’re pretty certain it doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
“But you think I do,” Stafford said.
“No,” Morales replied. “We’ve had five ships leave since anyone last saw Captain Beck: the USS Faraday, an Andorian Cruiser, a Klingon scout ship, a Yridian freighter, and a private yacht. They’ve all got pretty big head starts.”
“How many ships does Waystation have?” Stafford asked, understanding where this was going.
“Three. But I think we can eliminate the USS Farraday as a suspect vessel. That means our three will be enough if Silverado goes after the Andorians.”
Stafford winced inwardly. They would leave him with the big, heavily armed ship run by the incredibly violent species. “And you honestly think they might have her?” he asked.
“Captain Beck does have some history with the Andorians,” Morales replied. “Waits and I will take the Wayward and chase down the Klingon scout ship. Russell, you and Mason take the Cumberland after the Yridians. And Porter, you and Laru track down that yacht.”
“All right. I’ll have Silverado underway as soon as possible,” Stafford said, turning to head back into the turbolift.
“Um…sir?” Morales said, sounding confused.
“What?” Stafford said.
“Well…you’re the ranking officer on board currently.”
“Really?” Stafford thought about it for a moment. “Yeah, I guess I am. So do you need me to dismiss everyone?”
“You’re in command.”
“Fine. Dismissed,” Stafford said, starting for the turbolift again.
“Sir,” Morales said, stopping him. “You are in command…here.”
“You expect me to just sit here while you all go off and rescue your captain?” Stafford said.
“Well, you are…”
“The ranking officer,” Stafford said, cutting Morales off. “I get it.” He slapped his commbadge. “Stafford to Jall.”
“Jall is so very here!” his First Officer’s voice replied. Stafford rolled his eyes and filled Jall in on the situation.
“We’re on it!” Jall said.
“Mister Porter is sending you trajectory information on the Andorian cruiser now. Recall the crew and…”
“No need. We’ve got everyone we need aboard. We’re closing the gangway hatch now.”
“I am not aboard!” T’Parief said.
“Don’t worry, big guy. Stern can shoot things just as well as you can. We’ve got it under control. Silverado out.”
“Silverado is releasing their moorings,” Morales said, having returned to the Docking Control console. “Do you want me to try to stop them?”
“No. They can handle it,” Stafford said. “I think.”
“All right. We’re heading out then,” Morales said as, on cue, the turbolift opened and three junior officers Stafford didn’t recognize stepped into Ops.
“Um…okay,” Stafford said hesitantly.
T’Parief looked from the turbolift to Stafford. “Do you want me to stay here…for company?”
“Would you mind?” Stafford asked.
“No. I will take Tactical.”
The young officer who had taken over for Russell looked at the Andorian-Klingon-Gorn hybrid and gulped. “Sir?”
Stafford approached the officer. “It’s okay, Ensign…?”
“Jacob. T’Parief can take it from here.”
“Y-yes, sir,” Jacob said, retreating back into the turbolift with Morales, Russell, and Porter.
“Good luck,” Stafford said.
“Thank you, Captain. We’ll be back as soon as we have Captain Beck,” Morales said.
The turbolift doors closed leaving Stafford with his new and hopefully temporary command. He strolled around the area in front of the viewscreen/window. “All right. I’m in charge now. Steady as she…stays.”
Silverado had left without him. Valtaic would have been quite upset if it weren’t for the fact that several other of the ship’s officers were in the same situation. The ship would be back soon, though, and Lieutenant Day was more than capable of handling Operations.
But Valtaic was left with nothing to do. Waystation had quickly lost its charm, and Valtaic had been reduced to sitting on a bench in the lower concourse of the mall people watching, not that he was really paying any attention to the people going by. His mind was far more occupied with Dr. Diantha.
Who was now standing right in front of him.
“Doctor!” Valtaic exclaimed, making no attempt to hide his joy at seeing her.
“I have thought about your earlier request.”
“Yes. My initial response was given without due consideration of your offer.”
“And nothing. I am now considering it. I just require more information.”
“Of course. What would you like to know?”
“What were your plans for this date?”
“As this is your station, I was going to ask you for a restaurant recommendation. We would eat and converse, hopefully for several hours. This would be followed by you giving me a tour of the station, and then we would adjourn back to your quarters for an inebriating beverage, if you enjoy such things. At this point, depending on how the evening prior to this went, I would either bid you goodnight or we would engage in intercourse.”
Diantha nodded. “I appreciate your candor.”
“And I yours.”
“I shall take this under advisement and contact you when I have reached a decision,” Diantha said, extending her hand for him to shake. Valtaic took the offered hand, but, in his excitement, accidentally released another electric discharge. Diantha jerked, several more of her arm feathers dropping to the deck.
“My apologies,” Valtaic said.
“Think nothing of it,” Diantha said. “In my research this morning, I learned that this is common for your species.”
“I will await your response then.”
“Very good,” Diantha said with a crisp nod before moving off down the concourse. Valtaic watched her go and caught her glancing over her shoulder at him.
This he took to be an excellent sign.
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 58702.5:
It’s been two hours since the search for Captain Beck began, and so far I haven’t heard a thing from anybody. So I’m just standing here…waiting. Who knew commanding a space station could be this gosh darn fun?”
“And ve are back vith our very special guest, President Bradley Dillon. Before ze break, Bradley, ve were talking a bit about your childhood. Now neither of your parents is involved in politics or business. Zis is true, yes?”
“Yes, that’s correct. My father is a psychologist and my mother is an educator.”
“And neither of zese areas held an interest for you?”
“I’m not sure that you could say that, Vonna. The work I do requires a great deal of knowledge of psychology and teaching techniques. I have simply chosen to apply them in other endeavors.”
“Very successful ones.”
“Thank you, Vonna. That’s kind of you to say. I hope that my time as Federation President and my work with Dillon Enterprises’ various activities has been a boon to the lives of our citizens.”
“And now let’s go to ze comms. Ve have on ze line Kelly from ze USS Explorer. You have a question for President Dillon?”
“Yes, Vonna. Thank you. Love your show. I was wondering if President Dillon would talk a bit about his personal life. Perhaps a love that he lost and how that affected him.”
“I’m afraid that my life of late has kept me far too busy for a relationship. However, you never know when this could change. As for past relationships, I would rather not discuss them out of respect for the people involved. I do not wish for any of them to be dragged unwillingly into the limelight. Thank you for the question, Counselor Peterman. Give my regards to Captain Baxter.”
As Bradley finished his reply, a male voice could be heard in the background. “Honey, who are you on the comm with?”
“Nobody!” Counselor Peterman shouted back.
“Did you call in to The Vonna Show?”
“No! Mind your own business!”
“We watch it on the bridge, you know. Are you still on the line? Can I talk to her? Hi, Vonna!”
“Stop it, Andy!”
The channel abruptly closed.
“Do ve have another caller?”
“Bloody hell,” Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey said, pacing in front of the entrance to the AWN studios from where today’s edition of The Vonna Show was broadcasting. “How long is she going to keep him in there?”
“We’re lucky he’s in there at all,” Dr. Wowryk replied, her arms crossed as she sat on a bench close by. Several other mall patrons were also gathered outside the AWN studios, watching the Vonna broadcast on one of the small holovisions set up in a display window by the doors. “If Yvonnokoff had been on Silverado, she’d be doing today’s show without her special guest.”
“Ah still can’t believe Jall just left like that.”
“Why? He has no respect for authority and probably didn’t want to risk any of us returning to the ship and preventing whatever horrors he’s inflicting on the crew.”
“Yeah. Ah’m sure he’s started a compulsory orgy on the bridge. Come on, Noel. He’s not a monster.”
Applause suddenly broke out among the mall patrons watching The Vonna Show.
“My god, that woman is popular,” Jeffrey said.
“The show must be over,” Wowryk said, getting to her feet as the gathered crowd dispersed.
“Right. He could be out any second now.”
“The Special Secret Section is going to pummel you before you get within five meters of him.”
“That’s where ye come in. Ye’re his biggest fan, right?”
“I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t watch him just now, did I?” Wowryk said.
“No, but ye can’t stand Counselor Yvonnokoff.”
“Or what her show stands for.”
“Aye. That too,” Jeffrey said. The AWN doors opened and two Special Secret Section agents emerged, surveying the area for threats as they went. One of them spoke into a comm unit on his sleeve, and a moment later the man himself exited the studio flanked by two more Special Secret Section agents.
“Call to him,” Jeffrey whispered, prodding Wowryk.
“Do NOT touch me!” Wowryk hissed.
“Noel! He’s getting away!”
Wowryk bit her lip, watching Bradley Dillon start off down the concourse until… “President Dillon!” she shouted and was immediately horrified that she had done so. Bradley looked around and, spotting Wowryk and Jeffrey smiled and waved.
“Can we have a word?” Jeffrey called out quickly, starting toward the President. As Wowryk had warned, the Special Secret Section agents closed in, ready to pound Jeffrey to a pulp.
“No. It’s all right,” Bradley said, waving Jeffrey forward. “I don’t think Janeway is sending Starfleet officers to assassinate me.”
Jeffrey looked back at Wowryk, who was rooted where she stood. “Come on, Noel. This is our chance!”
Eyes wide with something between terror and awe, Wowryk lumbered after Jeffrey, entering the ring of agents.
“Thank you, Mister President. Ah’m Lieutenant Commander Simon Jeffrey, and this is Doctor Noel Wowryk.”
“She’s a big fan.”
“Ah,” Bradley said, taking Wowryk’s hand gently and shaking it. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Doctor.”
“We’re with the USS Silverado.”
“Silverado?” Bradley said. “That’s one of my Operation Salvage ships, isn’t it?”
“Aye. It is.”
“Splendid! How are things working out for you?”
“Ah’ll be honest. It was a wee bit rough at first getting the ship up and running properly, but now we’ve got it fairly under control. Starfleet is sending us out on a deep space mission right now, so Ah suppose they think we’re ready. We’re just here for a layover and to pick up a few last supplies.”
“Excellent. We must make sure you have everything you need to make your mission a success.”
“Ah’m glad to hear you say that, Mister President. Because we’ve actually run into a snag. Starfleet Command has rejected a few of our requisition requests,” Jeffrey said.
“Aye. It came straight from Fleet Admiral Ra’al herself.”
Bradley’s face darkened. “I see. And I’m afraid, Mister Jeffrey, that I have an idea why your requests were refused. I believe you and your shipmates may have become collateral damage in a war far above your level.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bradley said. “I take it your list is on your padd there?”
“Aye,” Jeffrey replied, handing the padd to Bradley, who looked it over.
“Weapons. Replicator supplies. Medical supplies. Nothing too unusual here. I think we…” Bradley trailed off.
“Is there a problem?” Jeffrey asked.
“This is…a lot of liquor.”
“Oh. Yes. It’s needed for morale.”
Bradley smiled. “So what then? You’re all alcoholics…on some kind of bar trek?”
Jeffrey opened his mouth to protest but was stopped by Bradley’s good-natured laughter. “It’s all right, Mister Jeffrey. I fully understand your situation. Let me take this, and we’ll see what we can do for you. All right?”
“Yes. Thank ye, Mister President. Really Ah can’t thank ye enough.”
“Think nothing of it,” Bradley said, shaking Jeffrey’s hand. “And Doctor, it was a pleasure meeting you.”
Bradley bowed to her, then was whisked off down the concourse by his Special Secret Section agents.
“That…went astoundingly well,” Jeffrey said.
“I told you he was a great man,” Wowryk replied.
“Really? All Ah got was ‘meep.’”
Wowryk glared at him then stalked off toward the nearest turbolift.
“Oh come on, Noel,” Jeffrey said, jogging to catch up with her. “Lots of people get tongue-tied around their idols. Ah won’t tell anyone that Bradley Dillon makes you weak in the knees. Ah promise.”
“My knees are not weak, but…thank you. I appreciate you keeping it to yourself.”
“Anytime,” Jeffrey said, unable to keep the smirk off of his face as they stepped into the turbolift together.
“Is it always this quiet up here?” Captain Stafford asked Lieutenant Nelagadda, who was monitoring Docking Control in Commander Morales’ absence.
“No, sir,” the Indian officer replied. “Sometimes we have three or four ships attempting to dock at once! But other times…yes, it is like this.”
“Thrilling,” Stafford muttered.
“Captain, we have had many many days of just sitting on the bridge watching space go by,” T’Parief said.
“Yes, but we go places. And we get into battles.”
“We have battles here, too” Nelagadda said defensively.
“Yeah? When was your last one?”
“About thirty seconds from now,” T’Parief said.
“Is that a joke?” Stafford asked. “I don’t get it.”
“Nine ships just decloaked. Twenty-thousand kilometers away and closing,” T’Parief said, checking the display on the Tactical console.
“What?” Stafford exclaimed. “Who is it?”
“Unknown. The computer does not recognize the ship configurations, but they have their shields raised and I am reading energy signatures that I believe are weapons.”
“All of our support ships leave and THEN we get attacked? Is this screaming set-up to anyone else?” Stafford said. “Get our shields up, T’Parief. Stand by on phasers and torpedoes.”
T’Parief cracked his knuckles and grinned a feral smile. “Yes, sir.”
“They’ve opened fire,” T’Parief reported.
“I guessed that,” Stafford said, grabbing onto the Docking Control console as Ops shook again. How did Beck deal with combat situations without a chair to hold onto?
The Ops viewscreen suddenly activated displayed the image of an older human woman with rather mussed hair. “Ops, this is Claurice Thenian in Waypoint Harbor. Could you stop that shaking please? We’re trying to have a shuffleboard tournament down here.” She peered more closely at the scene before her. “Christopher? Is that you?”
“Yes, Aunt Claurice,” Stafford said stifling a groan.
“Shields at ninety-six percent,” T’Parief said.
“What are you doing up there?” Stafford’s Aunt Claurice demanded. “Where’s Captain Beck?”
“I’m in command right now,” Stafford replied.
“No one said anything to me about you running this place.”
“It’s only temporary. It will be really temporary if you don’t let me get back to what I was doing.”
“And just what is so important that you can’t talk to your aunt?”
“We’re under attack!” Stafford shouted as the station jolted again.
“Shields at ninety-four percent,” T’Parief said. “Ninety-three point seven really, but I rounded up.”
“Captain Beck would have started shooting back by now,” Claurice observed.
“I’m getting to it! And I’m going to tell her that you forced a comm through to the viewscreen without going through proper channels.”
“We’re customers here,” Claurice said. “Good service demands…”
“Goodbye, Aunt Claurice!” Stafford snapped, signaling T’Parief to close the channel. Claurice Thenian vanished just before she could start shouting back at him.
“Thank you,” Stafford said.
The station rocked again.
“May I open fire now?” T’Parief said.
“Please,” Stafford said.
“Targeting,” T’Parief said as the image on the viewscreen shifted to show one of the incoming ships. It was a metallic green, darker than anything the Klingons or Romulans had, and far more blocky in design. A snubbed-nose front section led back to to a larger box that broke up at the rear, splitting into five pylons that spread out radially from the main hull. Each pylon was connected to the others by a straight connector, which pulsated with bright yellow energy. T’Parief was right. This ship didn’t look like anything Stafford had ever seen.
Before he could get a closer look, a massive phaser beam seared into view and slammed into the alien vessel. The impact slapped the ship out of view.
“Woah!” Stafford exclaimed. “Was that us?”
“Yes,” T’Parief said, his grin having turned to a broad smile.
“Oooh! I like the big guns.”
“It is a nice change.”
“Let ‘em have it.”
Outside the station, phaser banks lining the surfaces of the upper and lower saucers flared to life, sending powerful streams of energy raking through the void as volleys of torpedoes fired from launchers positioned along the saucers’ edges.
The alien ships veered and dodged as best they could, but the space around Waystation quickly became an inescapable trap of destruction. Within moments, all nine ships were drifting, shields gone, lights flickering, engines and weapons useless.
“That was over far too quickly,” T’Parief said disappointed.
“It happens,” Stafford said.
“I will have to exercise more self-control next time.”
“Try thinking about baseball.”
“Never mind,” Stafford said. “Get some tractor beams on those ships and find me someone in charge to talk to. You can’t tell me that they just happened to show up after Captain Beck goes missing.
“Diantha to Valtaic.”
“My answer is yes.”
“Excellent. I will see you at 1900 hours.”
“Make it 1830 hours. Be at the Infirmary.”
“Captain’s Log, Stardate 58703.6:
The Waystation ships and Silverado have returned and, what do you know, I was right. It was a set-up. It turns out that the exotic masseuse at the Medusan spa was an advance spy of the Oporastans, a Beta Quadrant species that we had not encountered before. The Medusans need to do a better job screening their employees. They hired a woman from a species no one has ever seen before, a woman who was here with the sole purpose of scouting out a potential conquest for her people. Fortunately for us, she got the idea that without Captain Beck, Waystation would be easy pickings because the entire command crew would race off looking for her. Once she got Beck on the massage table, she knocked her out with a hypospray, shoved her in a crate, and booked passage on the Yridian freighter that was about to depart while her people waited to swoop in and take the station once the command crew left to search for Beck. An ingenious plan, but the Oporastans didn’t count on there being another Captain on board, a Captain with the experience and skill to take them down. After their ignominious defeat, the Oporastans have agreed to send a diplomatic delegation for a proper first contact.”
“That is the most self-aggrandizing log entry I have ever heard.”
“Shut up, Jall.”
“And it was a really stupid plan.”
“Any Ensign running tactical could have stopped them.”
“Can I finish?”
“Only if you don’t say ‘ignominious’ again.”
“It’s a word.”
“So is ‘pretentious’.”
“Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey and Doctor Wowryk were able to obtain the remaining supplies on our list. I’ve been asked not to say how for reasons I don’t understand, but considering who was doing the asking, I’m not going to argue. We’re all stocked and loaded, so now it’s off to Matria.
“There they go,” Commander Morales said as the Docking Control console read that Arm Four was now empty.
“And I like to think that they’re taking a little bit of us with them,” Lieutentant Commander Porter said. “Or a lot of us, really. Do we have anything left?”
“Five torpedoes,” Lieutenant Commander Russell said.
“Five?” Commander Morales exclaimed.
“Well, to be fair, they fired most of them at the Oporastans.”
“And then they took the rest,” Captain Beck said. “Along with a good portion of our replicator stores and who knows how much from the Infirmary. I’m waiting for a report from Diantha.”
“Are you going to file a protest with Fleet Admiral Ra’al?” Morales asked. “Let her know what President Dillon ordered you to do?”
“No,” Beck said. “What’s the point? And Stafford did fight off the Oporastans. Let Silverado have the stuff. Where they’re going, they’ll probably need it.”
The turbolift doors opened. It took Beck a moment to recognize that the tall figure who stepped out into Ops was Diantha. Most of her feathers were gone.
“Doctor, are you all right?” Beck asked in shock.
“Fine,” Diantha replied curtly.
“Are you molting?” Porter asked.
“Yes. I molted.”
“As fast as you dropped your feathers?”
“Nicely done,” Captain Stafford said as looked over the stacks of crates filling Cargo Bay Three. The other cargo bays were all similarly stuffed.
“Thanks,” Lieutenant Commander Jeffrey said. “We couldn’t get all of the alcohol, but this will have to do.”
“It’s great. But enough with the secrecy. How did you convince President Dillon to help us out?”
“Noel sweet-talked him.”
“Really? I didn’t think she would sweet-talk anybody…ever. But then she has a thing for him, right?”
“Nah. She just respects him. Nothing more than that.”
“Damn. I was hoping we finally found a chink in that male-hating armor of hers.”
“We’ll have to keep looking, Ah guess,” Jeffrey said. “What about ye? Were ye able to see Captain Beck before we left?”
“No. I commed her, but she said she was busy filing the ‘I Was Captured By Hostile Aliens, but I Promise I Didn’t Reveal Any Starfleet Secrets’ forms. Those things take forever.”
“Don’t think she was avoiding ye?”
“I’d just saved her station. Why would she avoid me?” Stafford said.
“Maybe ye’re not her type.”
“I cleared that up!”
“Ah heard. ‘Ah like girls’?”
“Don’t worry, Chris,” Jeffrey said, patting Stafford on the shoulder. “There are lots of girls on Matria, just waiting for ye.”
“Waiting to make my life miserable.”
“You’re great for moral support. You know that?”
“Ah try. Want a beer?”
“Now that’s moral support. We’ll take it to the boat on the holodeck. We need to enjoy some smooth sailing while we can.”
“Aye, that we do. That we do.”