Author: Brendan Chris
<Voice of Sylvia>
“What? What do you mean Dr. Wowryk couldn’t give the voice-over? I’m very sure it’s her turn! My database has an exact record of who has and has not delivered voice-overs for multi-part stories, and I am certain…oh, forget it.”
“Last time, on Silverado, the crew arrived in Matrian Space. Unlike the first time, nobody shot at them, tried to enslave them or started kidnapping random crew members. This time, they found a scattered empire of confused people trying to rebuild their society, but lacking any concrete knowledge of their past. After arriving, Chris managed to royally piss off his First Officer and learned that he was way under-quota on mating rituals, though what that has to do with the mission is beyond me!”
“So Chris is trying to impress Anselia, Queen of the Matrians, while several crewmembers explore a giant piece of trash that may hold clues to Matria’s past. Hmph. And, as always, I’m sitting in orbit with nothing to do but contemplate the meaning of existence! Excuse me!”
“Why did I come on this mission?”
“Because ye were getting bored on the ship!”
“Ah, yes. I certainly am not bored here, but I am starting to believe that boredom is underrated,”
Commander Simon Jeffery turned towards Fifebee, careful to keep one gloved hand on a support girder.
“Is he learning to be funny?” Jeffery asked.
“I have always had a sense of humour,” Valtaic said, “I am Lithinarian, not Vulcan.”
“Ye had a sense of humour, but that doesn’t mean ye were funny!”
“I find your comments insulting,”
“Could somebody,” Fifebee sharply interrupted, “remind me why I brought the two of you with me anyway?”
“Ye brought me,” Jeffery said, “‘cuz Stafford made ye. And ye brought him,” Jeffery indicated Valtaic, “‘cuz he wants to get more field experience,”
The three officers had transported into a gigantic chunk of space junk. Fifebee was reasonably sure that the object was old, dating all the way back to the beginning of the Matrian Gender Wars. Jeffery was reasonably sure that the piece of debris they’d found, even though it was the size of some space stations he’d seen, only represented a fraction of the original construct. Valtaic was reasonably sure that he had nothing better to do than explore the shattered hulk.
“Did we ever find out why the Matrians haven’t towed this thing into their little garbage pile?” Jeffery asked.
“Yes,” Fifebee replied curtly, “It’s too big for their ships to move, and it’s not hurting anything,”
“Funny, I think Stafford said the same thing about a fat woman once. Right before she sent him to the emergency room,”
“If the two of you are finished, we seem to have a lot of work to do,” Valtaic reminded them.
They had materialized in open space less than a dozen meters from the outer hull of the object. The beam-in point was in a pressurized pocket of the wreckage, but the atmosphere was completely un-breathable after two centuries of stagnation.
“Wow,” Jeffery remarked, looking around the open…space, “And Ah thought Silverado looked bad when we got her. This place is trashed!”
“It was destroyed,” Fifebee said, as though stating the obvious to a dim-witted child, “That we are picking up any power readings is surprising,”
The area they were in might have been a set of living quarters, a control room…heck, it could have been anything. The bulkheads were crumpled, wires and conduits poked out of gashes in the deck and ceiling and the shattered remains of either display screens or windows floated serenely in the gravityless environment. Had he not been wearing his helmet, Jeffery was certain he’d be able to hear the place creaking, too. To one side a large hole that might have been a corridor led deeper into the wreckage.
“Can either of you find an intact data port in here?” Fifebee asked, still intent on her tricorder. She was the only member of the trio not wearing an environmental suit.
“No,” Valtaic said, still tapping his tricorder.
Jeffery looked at the alien officer.
“Hey, couldn’t ye, like, use that electric field thingy you have to try and track down working power nodes, or somethin’?”
Valtaic sighed inwardly at the human’s ignorance. At least he was asking in a reasonably polite manner, a rarity on Silverado.
“My senses are still far less accurate than a tricorder,” Valtaic said, “And besides, I cannot use my EM field without fear of disrupting my environmental suit.”
“Oh, right. Ah guess we all have to breathe, huh?”
“I might add that if you had taken the time to replicate a shielded suit, as per standard procedure when a Lithinarian joins the crew, I would not be in this limiting situation.”
“Ah’ll get to it,” Jeffery said, “Eventually,”
“I have determined that this structure, which I still believe to be an orbital habitat despite Jeffery’s suggestions that it was once a Matrian love-slave colony, was destroyed in an antimatter explosion,” Fifebee said, “Whether the explosion was caused by an overloaded power core or a separate explosive device is unclear. Judging from the molecular tracings on these bulkheads, I believe the explosion occurred near the center of the object. It broke into several pieces, some of which undoubtedly burned up upon entering the atmosphere of Matria Prime. This segment happened to enter a relatively stable orbit,”
“There are no intact data-access points in this area,” Valtaic said, closing his tricorder, “Remaining here is as pointless as your human courtship rituals,”
“I believe I have detected an area that was more heavily shielded,” Fifebee said, walking towards the gaping opening that might be a corridor, “Follow me,”
“Where the name of Our Saviour is everybody?” Dr. Noel Wowryk demanded, stepping onto the bridge and looking around. It was the middle of Alpha shift, but the bridge was nearly deserted. Only Yanick sat at her console, doodling on one corner with some kind of white substance.
“We’re docked at a space station in, like, friendly territory,” Yanick said, dabbing away, “But Stafford said that since the Matrians aren’t official Federation members yet, we should still have somebody on duty on the bridge. Actually, he wanted a few people up here, but everybody else is busy,”
“Quintaine’s down on the planet talking to the Matrian government about jurdy-istical bunnies, or something. Jall’s still pissed at Stafford, so he’s probably off getting drunk somewhere. Or laid. Or both. If you really need to talk to him, check the sauna on Deck-“
“Stop!!” Wowryk cried, holding up a hand, “Forget Jall,”
“Jeffery, Fifebee and Valtaic are off exploring something and T’Parief is on the planet talking about security arrangements for the membership ceremony. Chris was trying to meet with Admiral Verethi, but she blew him off again, and nobody knows where Noel went after she beamed down,”
“I’m right here,” Wowryk said dryly.
“Oh, right. Where were you?”
“I was exploring the city,” Wowryk said, stepping over to Stafford’s chair and sitting down delicately, “If we’re going to be here for a while, I need to become more comfortable with these people,”
“Did exploring the city help?”
“It did,” Wowryk said, “Counselor Yvonnokoff suggested if something makes me uncomfortable, I should expose myself to it more frequently. It seems to be working with the Matrians,”
“Have you tried exposing yourself to men more often?” Yanick aked, giggling.
“Well, yes I…HEY!” Wowryk sat up, “That’s not funny!”
Yanick was still giggling.
“Oohhhh!!!!” Wowryk seethed, “Not that kind of exposing!”
Yanick continued giggling.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” Wowryk asked, rising from the command chair and stepping over to Yanick’s panel.
“Jall asked me to proof-read some of his reports before he sends them in,” Yanick said, gesturing to her panel. A report was displayed in one corner, with a scattered series of white blotches apparently covering spelling and grammar mistakes, “He gave me this stuff to use,” she handed Wowryk a small, white, bottle.
“White-Out,” Wowryk read, looking first at the bottle, then at the drying series of blotches on her panel.
“Trish,” she asked, handing the bottle back, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Mostly,” Yanick replied, taking out a small brush and continuing to dab away, “I just have to figure out how to make the white spots follow the rest of the words when I scroll down to the next page,”
Wowryk stared for another moment, then grabbed a magazine padd from the stack next to Yanick and resumed her place in Stafford’s chair.
“And onto the matter of criminal investigations,” Queen Anselia was saying, “We have complete confidence in your abilities and are willing to offer you full jurisdiction in any investigations,”
“Uh,” Stafford gulped, glancing at Ambassador Owens,” Yeah. Actually, most member planets have their own planetary security forces for things like that. Starfleet just…helps out where it has to,”
“Yes, we understand that,” Anselia said, “However, Matria does not have a planetary security force. We have a number of former Mistresses working with males who served as officers on our warships who are keeping the peace. They are untrained and very inexperienced!”
“I’ve only got so many people!” Stafford objected, “We can’t handle security and investigations for an entire planet!” It was becoming an old argument. The Matrians seemed to think that Federation membership meant that Starfleet would come in and handle all of their problems,”
“If I may offer an alternative,” Owens spoke up, “We can have some of our people work on training yours, so that they can eventually handle planetary security on their own,”
“Very well,” Anselia nodded, “On that, we can agree. Next, the matter of antimatter trade. There are extensive dilithium deposits on two of the moons of Matria VI. We are prepared to offer regular dilithium shipments in exchange for Federation assistance in constructing an antimatter production facility on Matria V,”
“The Federation prefers not to have such tempting targets out on the frontier,” Owens jumped in before Stafford could say anything, “However, we can offer…”
Stafford’s eyes started to glaze over as yet another step was taken in the diplomatic dance. He’d figured that since the Matrians had already voted to accept Federation membership that all these petty details had been taken care of. Apparently, Anselia had wanted to wait until an actual Starfleet officer was present to hammer out several details. It was sort of a good thing for him; at least he didn’t have some random functionary making promises that he and his crew would then have to bust their asses to keep. On the other hand, he was pretty sure that if they didn’t take a break soon, he was going to-
“CAPTAIN!” Owens was saying sharply.
“Hmm? What?” Stafford jerked, “I’m awake!”
“We were just asking your opinion on border security,” Anselia said, “We have our own ships handling that at the moment, but we are spread very thin,”
“Well,” Stafford thought fast, “Uh, the only real target in Matrian Space right now is the Matrian star system, right? Your colonies are all deserted and the Senousians don’t really have any enemies. I think it would be better to keep Silverado in-system in case anything nasty does break through your borders,”
“We agree,” Anselia said. She consulted an ornate clock hanging on one wall, “And on that note, we believe we should break for the day. Captain Stafford, we believe you and your First Officer are joining us and Governor Helith for dinner?”
“Uh, yeah,” Stafford said, “Let me just go call Jall.”
“I’m not going to do it!” Jall said, the comm-link managing to perfectly convey the look of distain that was on his face.
“C’mon, Jall!” Stafford said, pacing in the lavish guest suite he’d been given for his stay on Matria Prime, “It’s just dinner! I know you’re not interested in Anselia, I’m fine with that! I’m the one who wants to get alone with her!”
“Then you’re the one who can take her to dinner!”
“She wants a double date or no date, Jall!” Stafford said, running his fingers through his hair and reaching for his ‘Starfleet Scents’ cologne, “C’mon, buddy. I need you!”
“NO!” the line clicked, then went dead.
“Shit,” Stafford muttered.
Queen Anselia stood in the lounge of Afel Turendo Exdu, a Matrian restaurant that, according to the city design, was supposed to be famous for its steaks, ribs and squash soup. She’d dined at many different places in the two years since the Reawakening, and so she’d found that the plans for the city very rarely matched reality when it came to quality and reputation. For example, a seafood place down near the administrative district, according to the city plan, was supposed to be famous for its chowders. Unfortunately, nobody in the entire Matrian Republic was capable of making decent chowder. Instead, the restaurant had become famous for its ability to quickly and violently cleanse the humanoid digestive system. Afel Turendo Exdu could at least grill a decent steak, but their squash soup was deadly.
“Is it in their custom for these human men to make us wait?” Helith asked.
“We are not sure,” Anselia shrugged, one hand moving to scratch the small of her back, “We are not even sure if it is our custom! But we, along with most of our girlfriends, have noticed that Matrian men sure take a long time getting dressed!”
“Boys will be boys,” Helith commented.
The doors to the restaurant slid open and Captain Stafford rushed in. He was still wearing his Starfleet uniform, though he’d at least cleaned his hair and shaved. He took two steps into the lounge, spotted Anselia and stepped over.
“Your Highness,” he said politely, taking Anselia’s hand and kissing her knuckles as she stared, not sure whether to be flattered or offended by the gesture, “A pleasure to see you again,”
“You’re underdressed,” Anselia observed, “But we suppose they can make an exception in your case. Where is Mr. Jall?”
“He’ll, ah,” Stafford stammered, “He’ll be here soon. Where is, uh, Ms. Helith?”
“I’m Governor Helith,” Helith extended a hand, expecting Stafford to kiss it in the same manner he kissed Anselia’s, “A pleasure to meet you,”
Stafford’s eyes bugged out and his jaw dropped.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” Anselia sked.
“Nope!” Stafford squeaked, “No problem! I just, er, have to use the washroom!”
“Down the hall, to the left,” Anselia pointed, “Honestly, you boys and the need to powder your noses! Helith and I will get a table while we wait,”
“What the f**k was that?” Stafford asked himself, splashing water on his face. He’d arrived at the restaurant, and of course there was Anselia, looking as beautiful as ever. It was a bit strange that she was wearing the Matrian equivalent of a business suit; he’d been expecting something a bit more feminine. But Helith! Helith was wearing a ruby red shirt, deep navy blue pants and a slightly more feminine air.
Oh, and Helith was male.
“What the f**k??” Stafford asked again, “I can’t double date with that…that…guy! How the hell could Anselia make a stupid mistake like that??”
There was only one solution to the problem.
Yanick was still working her console on the bridge, still trying to find the answer to her White-Out dilemma when the comm sounded.
“Stafford to Yanick! Trish, I need your help, NOW!”
“Yanick here,” she said, “What’s up?”
“Trish, I need to you get Jall down here. Fast!”
“He said he wasn’t going to go,” Yanick reminded him, “I really don’t think I can say anything to change his mind,”
Stafford quickly explained the situation.
“I’m on it, Yanick out,” she said, tapping her comm badge. She jumped up out of her chair and rushed for the turbo-lift.
“Noel, you have the bridge!” she called as she passed the command chair. The turbolift doors hissed shut, and Wowryk found herself alone on the bridge.
“Well,” Wowryk said, looking around, “I don’t think anybody would mind if I went on one teensy little crusade for the glory of God, would they?”
Jall was sitting in his quarters, an appletini cradled in one hand. He was nowhere near drunk; he was too used to being offended by Stafford to get that upset over it, but at the same time, he was furious that the man still didn’t have the sensitivity to respect his lifestyle after all this time.
“What?” he called, “Who is it?”
Pulling himself off his couch, he walked over to the door and let her in.
“You have to go down to the planet and help Chris,” she said, stepping in.
“Trish, I already told him no!” Jall said sharply, “I’m not going to go on a date and pretend to be interested in some hussy just so he can have slim chance of scoring with her!”
“I know I’d be doing him a favour,” Jall went on, “And I know he’d appreciate it. And I know that going for dinner with a woman is no big deal,”
“It’s the equality of the thing!” Jall snapped, “If I wanted to score with somebody, you know Stafford would never double date to help me out! His brain just can’t function that way! For that matter, why can’t this stupid Captain’s Booty Count include my male…encounters?”
Now Jall was gesturing wildly, his appletini sloshing onto the carpet.
“My personal life is my personal life,” he said, “And I have every right to live it the way I see fit! This isn’t an official diplomatic dinner, he can’t order me to-“
“Stafford’s date is a guy!” Trish shouted.
Jall stopped in his tracks.
“Anselia set him up on a double date…with a guy?”
“Ohhhh…” Jall was already changing into a fresh uniform, “This I have GOT to see!”
“When will Mr. Jall be arriving?” Anselia asked Stafford. The appetizer, some sort of boiled grub, had just been served. Stafford was sitting opposite Anselia, with Helith next to him. Stafford had moved as far away from the Matrian as he could, but he was quickly running out of table space.
“I just spoke to, uh, his hairstylist, and she says he’ll be here shortly,”
“Ahh, yes,” Anselia nodded, “So tell me, Captain, is it normal for the men on your planet to keep the women waiting for hours before dinner?”
“No, it’s usually the other way around,”
“Really?” Anselia and Helith exchanged a glance, “Well, it seems there’s another difference between our two cultures.”
“Oh, there are differences, all right,” Stafford gulped, trying to move even further away from Helith. In fairness to the Matrian, Stafford had noticed that all of the couples in the restaurant were…different by Earth standards. Despite genetic engineering, a century of war and another of mind-controlled enslavement, the women still seemed to hold a more dominant role. The women were dressed in business-suit like outfits, while the men wore more casual, somewhat less manly attire. Stafford even saw one woman holding a chair while her date sat down. He also noticed that the Matrian men seemed to be somewhat smaller and less muscular than the women.
“This is definitely a strange planet,” Stafford muttered.
There was a shower of transporter sparks as Jall materialized next to the table.
“Sorry I’m late everybody,” he said, bowing to Anselia and taking his place next to her at the table, “I was just, er, powdering my nose,” He shot an evil grin in Stafford’s direction, “I had no idea you’d found such an…interesting date for Chris here,”
“Well, it wasn’t easy,” Anselia admitted, “But he behaves so much like a woman, I thought Helith might be more his speed,”
“What??” Stafford demanded, “A woman??”
“One doesn’t usually meet a man who is comfortable with authority,” Anselia said, “Or so polite and flattering. Most men on Matria always want you to flatter them, to bring them flowers and to respect their feelings. And it’s impossible to get one to talk about sports! You’re just the opposite! And Mr. Jall here…we don’t know what it is about him, but he’s just unlike any man or women we’ve ever met before!”
“I can’t believe I nearly missed this!’ Jall said, enjoying the shocked expression on Stafford’s face.
“Any luck?” Jeffery asked, carefully pulling himself through the shattered remains of a door.
“I am unsure,” Fifebee said, “I am having difficulties with my sensory subroutines, as I am at the very limit of my relay’s range,”
They’d been forced to leave the holo-relay behind , after the shattered corridor they’d been following degenerated into a web of twisted supports and tangled cables. Jeffery and Valtaic had barely managed to squeeze through, and the relay had been left behind. They’d only gone another hundred meters or so before finding a somewhat more intact section, but the heavy metal debris was limiting the range of the holo-relay. Fifebee’s normally perfect outlines had started to fuzz and her solidity was down to about 50/50.
The chamber they’d found clearly used to be a control room of some kind; thought probably a very minor one. Jeffery likened it to a system monitoring room, like Deflector Control or Impulse Engineering on Silverado. The bulkheads on two sides had buckled from the force of the explosion, and the same explosion had compressed the remaining two slightly, almost like an accordion. But in the center of the room a small pedestal reached from floor to ceiling. It had once been ringed with access screens and control panels, but these were now shattered ruins. Only heavy shielding, now twisted and blackened, had protected the central portion of the pillar.
“I believe it is a data core of some kind!” Fifebee exclaimed, looking over Jeffery’s shoulder at his tricorder (she could no longer hold her own), “Fantastic! If we can recover some of the data, this could be exactly what the captain needs!”
“Beltin’,” Jeffery said, relived that their hours-long trek through the wreckage was at an end, “Let’s beam it aboard the ship and get out of here!”
“I don’t think so,” Valtaic said, carefully examining the data core, “It is very old, is somewhat damaged and is undoubtedly fragile. The temperature and pressure changes alone could destroy valuable data, not to mention the transport process itself,”
“Ye mean Ah have to sit here while the two of ye tinker with this thing?”
“No,” Fifebee said, “It means you will follow my directions and assist Mr. Valtaic, as I cannot ‘tinker’ in my present state,”
Valtaic was already carefully attaching leads from his tricorder to the shattered remains of the consoles.
“The sooner we find something useful,” Fifebee said, “the sooner we can leave,”
“Note the key word,” Valtaic said, “Useful. Unlike, that human instrument that sounds like feloid life-forms being horribly killed. What is it called? A pipe-bag?”
“Bagpipes,” Fifebee corrected.
“Ah’m starting to not like ye,” Jeffery remarked.
Dr. Wowryk was still sitting in Stafford’s chair. In front of her, the main viewscreen was displaying the view directly ahead of Silverado. That is, a view of empty space with a small sliver of Docking Station One visible in the lower corner. She didn’t even have a planet to look at! She supposed she could adjust the external sensors to give her a better view, but she really didn’t feel like walking over to Fifebee’s science panel and making the adjustment. She wasn’t even sure she knew how to make those adjustments.
If she had gotten up, she might have noticed that both the science and tactical panels had flashing warnings on the long-range sensor displays.
Stafford was in hell.
There was no other way to put it. Here he was, sitting at a restaurant with a beautiful (and powerful) woman. But was he here on a date with her? No, he was on a date with her fruit of a governor while his fruit of a First Officer dated the woman Stafford wanted!
The Management would to apologize to anybody who might be offended by Captain Stafford’s choice of words. Considering the circumstances, let’s give the poor guy a break, shall we?
“So, what are Trill women like?” Anselia was asking, having already asked Jall about his home planet.
“Oh, it depends,” Jall said, taking a swing from his drink, “The joined ones can be pretty eccentric, but the un-joined ones can be a bit dull if you ask me,”
“This whole ‘joining’ practice is amazing,” Helith said to Stafford, “I can’t imagine what it would be like to share my body with another sentient being!”
“Please,” Stafford swallowed, squirming so far away from the Matrian that he nearly fell off his seat, “Don’t talk about sharing your body when I’m around,”
“Isn’t Sylvia always telling you to open your mind?” Jall asked.
Stafford glared at him.
“Excuse us,” he said to Anselia and Helith, “We have to go, uh…”
“Powder your noses?” Anselia suggested.
“Sure, that,” Stafford said, grabbing Jall by the arm and pulling the amused officer towards the men’s room.
Once they were in the relative privacy of the men’s room (which, for some reason, did not contain any urinals, only stalls) Stafford whirled to face Jall.
“This isn’t funny!” he snapped.
“Yes,” Jall chuckled, “Oh, yes it is! Man, I couldn’t have dreamed of a better way to get back at you! How does it feel, being in my shoes?”
“It sucks!” Stafford snapped, “I’m interested in women! Especially that hot red-head sitting at our table! Now, I’m sorry that I offended you, and I’m sorry that you think I don’t respect your…whatever it is. But I have a real chance to connect with that woman, and I need your help to make it happen!”
“Let me think,” Jall said, making a show of being deep in thought, “No,”
“No!” Jall said firmly, “I don’t think you want any kind of ‘connection’, aside from whatever’s below her hips, and I sure has hell don’t think you’re actually sorry! I think you’re just saying you are because you want me to help you. You want everything to be nice and friendly when it suits your needs, but the minute it doesn’t, you could really care less about whether or not I feel respected!”
“Y’know,” Stafford said, “Has it occurred to you that people’s problems with you have less to do with your sexuality and more to do with the fact that you’re an asshole?”
“You know, somebody once said that there are two kinds of straight people,” Jall snapped, “The kind that hate you behind your back, and the kind that hate you to your face,”
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Stafford snapped, banging a fist against the counter and sending tiny bottles of sample cologne skittering to the floor, “You. Are. An. ASSHOLE! He said each word clearly, with careful emphasis, banging the counter again. “You missed Yanick’s last birthday because you were too busy getting a ‘sensual massage’ and the last time a crewmember needed your help with a personal problem you said ‘Suck it up, princess. Life blows, then you die and the worms eat you’! And don’t even get me started on the way you and T’Parief treat each other!”
Jall was quiet. The quiet was shattered when Stafford’s comm-badge started beeping.
“Wowryk to Stafford,”
“Not now!” Stafford snapped, slapping his badge and closing the channel.
He and Jall glared at each other angrily for a moment.
“Now we’re right back at square one,” Stafford groaned, “And here I thought we were actually making progress!” He scowled, considering carefully.
“Well, this dinner is blown,” he concluded, “I’m going to go out there and tell Anselia the truth. Then we’re going to go back to the ship, sleep it off and hope that things are looking better in the morning.”
“Fine,” Jall said curtly.
“Fine,” Stafford nodded, stepping out of the restroom.
“And so the female said ‘That is not my electrical receptor port’, to which the male replied ‘That is not my electrical discharge pylon, either’!” Valtaic promptly broke into chuckles.
“Aye, that’s an original one for ye,” Jeffery groaned.
“If you are finished with your pointless comedic routine,” Fifebee said, “I need Mr. Valtaic to adjust the data defragmentation protocols to adapt to the differences in the data format,”
“Of course,” Valtaic, said, still grinning.
“Are we almost done?” Jeffery asked, “I promised Sylvia I’d re-align the starboard power transfer conduit today,”
“I am attempting to upload the contents of this data core into the ship’s computer,” Fifebee replied, “There is a lot of data, and it is badly corrupted. I would prefer not so simply dump alien data into our computer, as we do not know what may be on that data core. Therefore, we must carefully analyze and select the information we wish to extract. This will take time, especially with all of the security and computer integrity precautions we must run,”
“I am finding the combination of technically challenging work and human-custom banter to be enjoyable, actually,” Valtiac said, “Have you heard the one about the Klingon, the Ferengi and the bottle of soya sauce?”
“Ah’m REALLY starting not to like ye!” Jeffery muttered.
Wowryk was sprawled out in Stafford’s chair when Yanick returned, head on one arm and legs hanging off the other. She’d dozed off nearly half an hour ago, the last time Fifebee had checked in. Somewhere a panel was beeping, demanding attention.
“Uh, Noel?” Yanick said, timidly poking the doctor’s arm, “You’re not supposed to sleep when you have the conn!”
Wowryk grunted, pushing Trish’s arm away. Somewhere else on the bridge, another panel started beeping.
“Noel!” Yanick said, more insistently, “Wake up!”
“Turn off the alarm clocks!” Wowryk grumbled, finally coming around, “I don’t have evening prayer for another four hours!”
“It’s not an alarm clock!’ Yanick said, grabbing Wowryk by the arm and hauling her to her feet, “Come on, help me find out what’s wrong!”
“Fine, fine,” Wowryk rubbed the sleep from her eyes and moved over to the Ops panel, “Uh, we were being hailed. But it looks like they left a message.” She tapped a button and the screen flickered to life. A Matrian man was standing on the bridge of a ship, sparks flaring from a damaged console behind him.
“This is the Matrian patrol ship Clamita to any vessels in Matrian Space! We’ve been attacked and disabled by several unknown ships! They’re on a direct course for Matrian space! Stop them, for the love of the Mistress!” He turned, looking at something out of range of the camera, “No! Get away from me! NOOO!!!!”
The message cut out.
“That came in a few minutes ago,” Yanick said, looking over Wowryk’s shoulder, “Uh, oh,” Wowryk muttered, “That means that the beeping coming from the Tactical panel is probably-“
Her words were cut off as a new transmission came in, this one overriding the control protocols and forcing its way onto the viewer.
All over the Matrian system, viewscreens blurred into static before displaying the same image. A rather plain looking being sat on a throne-like command chair, a purple cape draped over what looked like a grey and blue pinstriped suit. His hair was thinning, becoming slightly grey at the temples and his face was slightly lined, giving him the look of somebody settling comfortably into middle age. Attached to the side of his head was a strange contraption that looked to be half headset and half microphone, though most of the time such equipment wasn’t fused to the user’s skull. He held a large padd in one hand, a writing sylus in the other.
“Greetings, citizens of the,” he paused, consulting his PADD, “Matrian Republic. I am P’tareck, Chairman of the Qu’Eh! Congratulations!” he declared, in a slightly sibilant voice, “We’re here to audit your society! Now, simply lower your shields, surrender your ships and we’ll make this as painful, um, painless as possible. Your quality will be assessed and your useful assets will be merged with our own. Your synergy will sustain us.”
P’tareck leaned forward, an evil grin on his face.
“Turning down this offer,” he said darkly, “would not be good for business,”
“Uh-oh,” Yanick said as the viewer went dark, “Uh, we should probably answer him, right?”
“We should probably get Stafford up here,” Wowryk said, tapping her comm-badge, “Wowryk to Stafford,”
“Not now!” Stafford’s voice snapped. There was a click as the channel went dead.
“Ohhh!” Yanick groaned, “Noel! Do something! Hail them! Tell them they can’t attack Matria, it’s a Federation planet!”
“I don’t think-“ Wowryk cut herself off. Like it or not, she was now the ranking Starfleet officer on scene. By the time they retrieved Jeffery, Stafford or anybody of higher rank, the Qu’Eh’s would be close enough to Matria Prime to do whatever they wanted. She had to do something, now.
“Open a channel,” Wowryk said. She waiting for confirmation that it was open, then spoke:
“This is Dr. Noel Wowryk commanding the Federation starship Silverado,” she said, “You are trespassing in Federation space. Um, please leave now!”
The screen flickered again as P’tareck re-appeared.
“Dr. Wowryk,” he said, “A pleasure to meet you! I understand you made quite the impression on people the last time you were here! I look forward to assessing your quality!”
“Mr. P’tarek,” Wowryk said, “The Matrian Republic has chosen to join the Federation. If you’re interested in trade, peaceful relations and perhaps some information about the all-mighty God, we would be more than happy to sit down and have a little chat,”
“Oh, sweety,” P’tarek gave Wowryk a patronizing smile, “I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way. Prepare to be monitored!”
He vanished from the screen.
“I’m not sure,” Yanick said, “But I think they’re arming weapons!”
The ship shook hard, the lights flickering as power systems were disrupted.
Yanick screamed like, well, like a girl while Wowryk was flung against a padded bulkhead.
“Get the shields up!” Wowryk cried, jumping towards tactical, “Get somebody else up here, somebody who knows what they’re doing!”
The ship shook again, this time sparks showered down from a damaged conduit.
“What is going on?” Sylvia declared, her holographic avatar materialized, a very pissed-off expression on her face, “We’re under attack? Where is everybody?”
“Sylvia!” Yanick cried, “We need your help! Raise shields! Fire weapons! Do something!”
“I can’t do that without authorization from the commanding officer,” Sylvia said quickly, “Who’s in command?”
Yanick and Wowryk exchanged a look as the ship shook again.
“She is!” Yanick said.
“I am!” Wowryk snapped. She went back to tapping commands into the tactical panel, “OK, shields are up, but the docking arm is interfering with the starboard shields! Yanick, detach us! Sylvia, you’re my first officer!”
“Me? Sylvia was startled, “But I’m-“
“Computer or not, you’re actually on the ship, and at least know what we’re supposed to be doing!” Wowryk said briskly, “Consider that an order!”
Yanick started tapping at her panel while Sylvia promptly summoned more officers to the bridge. The communications channels, nearly silent up until then, had erupted into a mess of distress calls, status reports and overall panic.
Five ships had dropped out of warp in the general vicinity of Matria Prime. Each ship was classified as a light cruiser: smaller and faster than Silverado. The Qu’eh ships were a dull, drab olive green with the occasional splash of matte black. Each ship was strangely shaped, with a large lower section containing engines, crew quarters and cargo space. A broad upper section held shield generators and weapons platforms. Overall, the ship’s looked like giant, flying clipboards.
The three ships taking part in the attack against Docking Station One fired again, beams of purple destructive energy battering the decrepit station’s weak shields. A stray beam impacted Silverado’s shields, energy flashing as it was deflected back and forth between Silverado’s shields and the station’s until it eventually dissipated. The other two ships, yet to meet with any resistance, started beaming troops down to the planet’s surface.
Stafford and Jall had just returned to the table where Anselia and Helith were waiting.
“Is there a problem?” Anselia asked, seeing the expression on Stafford’s face.
“Yes, your Majesty,” Stafford said, “See, I haven’t-“
Stafford was cut off as both Anselia and Helith’s communicator’s started beeping urgently. Stafford’s comm-badge beeped again.
“What?” he snapped, crossing his arms as Anselia and Helith talked quietly with whomever had called them.
“There you are!” Sylvia’s very angry voice came through the comm, “Why weren’t you answering before? We’re under attack!”
“Five ships entered the system, declared hostilities, are attacking the station and beaming troops down to the planet!”
“Shit!” Stafford swore. Anselia and Helith were already being escorted out of the restaurant by a pair of Matrian security agents that had appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Another agent quietly urged him to follow. Stafford complied, grabbing Jall by the arm and dragging him along.
“Can you beam us up? Stafford asked.
“No, we’ve raised the shields!” Wowryk’s voice came on, “Most of our senior staff is down on the planet!”
“What about Fifebee, Jeffery and Valtaic?” Jall cut in, “Are they back yet?”
“Shit!” Wowryk snapped, surprising both men with her use of the word, “I forgot about them!”
Deep in the chunk of space debris, Valtaic was tapping at the tricorder, looking annoyed.
“I do not know what happened to this data core,” he said crossly, “But I have never seen such badly fragmented data!”
“Try to-“ Fifebee was cut off as her hologram fizzled out, then slowly faded back into coherence.
“What the hell was that?” Jeffery asked.
“I am not-“ this time Valtaic was cut off as the entire structure shook, support beams and twisted panels shrieking in the thin, un-breathable atmosphere.
Jeffery and Valtaic exchanged glances.
“That felt like a weapon impact,” Jeffery said.
Valtaic started tapping at his tricorder again.
“I am picking up energy discharges outside the wreckage,” he said, “They read like weapon’s fire!”
“Silverado to Jeffery,” Sylvia’s voice came through their suit radios, “I hate to worry you boys, but we’re having a bit of a…no, Noel! That button controls the tractor beams, NOT the phasers! No, don’t…you just dumped the waste extraction tanks! Dammit, where are those evening shift people?”
“Simon, we’re having a bit of a crisis here. We can’t lower the shields to beam you aboard, and the chunk of debris you’re in is dangerously close to the Qu’eh ships!”
“Just try to sit tight!” Sylvia cried, “No, Noel! Don’t touch that!”
The channel went dead.
“Well, that settles it,” Jeffery said, “We have to get out of here!”
“Any bright ideas?” Fifebee asked.
“Yup,” Jeffery said. He grabbed Valtaic’s tricorder and hit the ‘Emergency Data Dump’ button, “To hell with picking over what we need, we’ll just dump the contents of this whole core to Silverado’s computer and worry about dissecting it later! Fifebee, you switch over to Silverado’s imaging system so ye can help out there. Valtaic and I are getting out of here!”
“And where are we going?” Valtaic asked.
The shattered room shook again, one end collapsing as the weakened supports gave way.
“Out of here!” Jeffery cried.
“I am Jane 5-B, sentient hologram,” Fifebee declared, materialized on the bridge, “What is happening?”
The ship shook again as Qu’eh weapons impacted the shields.
“We’re being attacked!” Wowryk called out from the command chair, “Start scanning them, or whatever it is you do in a battle!”
Fifebee looked around the bridge. Yanick was at the helm, taking the ship into evasive manoeuvres. Lieutenant Rengs was manning ops, Lt. Commander Stern had just taken over tactical and Lieutenant Day was at the engineering station. Fifebee was also surprised to see Sylvia sitting in Jall’s chair, apparently acting as first officer.
“Why are you in command?” Fifebee asked.
“Because somebody left me the conn and everybody else is too busy to do it!” Wowryk snapped, “Now get to work!”
A bit shocked at Wowryk’s attitude, Fifebee quickly began scanning the Qu’eh ships.
“Their ships are two hundred fifteen meters in length, one hundred in width,” she reported, “They are using Class IV shields; our weapons can penetrate them but it will take several hits. Weapons appear to be typical phased-energy beams and anti-matter torpedoes.”
The ship shook again.
“Shields down to thirty percent!” Stern called.
“Keep returning fire!” Sylvia called out, “Target their weapon systems!
As the three attacking ships finished their most recent attack run, Docking Station One finally opened fire, weak phaser beams shooting out and impacting Qu’eh shields. Silverado came around the bulk of the station, opening fire with her phaser cannon. The pulsed shots pounded against the lead ship, finally breaking through its shields and reducing its engines to rubble. Capacitor cells exhausted, the cannon promptly shut down and began its recharge cycle. The two ships that had been beaming troops down to the surface had evidently finished, as they were now joining the fight against Silverado and the battered old space station. Several stray shots impacted the massive chunk of space debris orbiting nearby. Jeffery and Valtaic hadn’t been noticed yet by the Qu’eh, but even the accidental hits were coming close to shattering the entire wreck.
“Docking Station One has lost shields!” Fifebee reported, “They’re taking serious damage!”
“We’ve disabled another Qu’eh ship,” Stern reported, “but the remaining three are still firing!”
“Sylvia!” Wowryk hissed, “What do we do?”
“Get them to evacuate!” Sylvia said, her neural circuits processing all the information around her at incredible speeds, “See if we can draw fire away from them!”
“Oh! Oh!” Yanick called from the helm, “Launch the shuttles! We’ve done it before!”
“Stern,” Sylvia called, “Get some pilots down to the shuttlebay. They are to use the shuttles to draw fire away from the station!”
Stern gave the orders. A few moments later, two runabouts and three Class-IX shuttles launched from the ship’s two shuttlebays, firing their smaller weapons at the attacking ships. Silverado shook again, harder than before, as a torpedo slammed against the starboard hull. A second torpedo missed, impacting the nearby wreckage instead.
“Shields are DOWN!” Stern cried, “The Niagra is trying to cover us, but the Qu’eh ships are moving in!”
“The wreckage Mr. Jeffery and Mr. Valtaic are on is breaking up,” Fifebee reported, “They will be horribly killed very shortly!”
“Beam them over!” Wowryk ordered, “Our shields are down now anyway,”
The Qu’eh ships fired again. This time Sylvia and Fifebee both fizzled as the power systems strugged to keep up.
“We’ve lost replicators,” Day reported, “Life support is failing on decks 30 to 36!”
“Evacuate them!” Syvlia called.
“The ships are firing on the station again!” Stern called.
Everybody watched in horror as the Qu’eh fired another brace of torpedoes, this time targeting the old Matrian space station. The first blasted off one of the docking arms. The second shattered the transparent windows covering the commercial sector, sending atmosphere, tables, various trinkets and several doomed shopkeepers spiralling out into space. The third and forth impacted the main body of the station, shattering hull plates and ripping apart the underlying sections. The station started venting gasses and debris like a gutted animal spewing blood and entrails.
“Their reactor is going critical!” Fifebee snapped.
“Transporters!” Wowryk called, “Get as many…”
The station detonated with a blinding flash, almost overriding the viewscreen’s brightness filters. Silverdo shook like a leaf in a thunderstorm as the shockwave crashed against her unshielded hull.
“We’re being targeted again by the Qu’eh!” Stern called.
Wowryk squeezed her eyes shut as Fifebee reported that over three hundred Matrians had been on the station when it had exploded. Over eigh hundred people were on Silverado, and Wowryk was pretty sure another wave of torpedoes would do to the ship what they had done to the station.
“Signal the Qu’eh that we sur-“
“More ships coming out of warp!” Stern replied, tapping at his panel, “They’re Senousian!”
“What?” Wowryk spun around, “Really? On screen!”
Two Senousian battle cruisers dropped out of warm within spitting distance of Matria Prime. Sleek, bristling with weapons and looking more than a bit phallic, the two ships immediately opened fire on the Qu’eh ships. One manoeuvred between Silverado and the Qu’eh, clearly intending on shielding the Federation ship.
“One of the Qu’eh ships has dropped its shields!” Fifebee reported, “It is retrieving their troops from the surface!”
The remaining ships lashed out with all of their weaponry, battering the Senousian ships and keeping them too busy to attack the unshielded vessel. The instant they’d finished beaming up their people they pivoted together and fled into warp.
Captain’s Log, Stardate 58836.4:
“So much for things going according to plan. Matrian Space has been invaded by an apparently hostile race known as the Qu’eh. We don’t know who they are or what they want, other than the fact that they want to ‘assess our quality’, whatever the f**k that means! Docking Station One has been destroyed and Silverado took moderate damage in the fight. Moderate damage, huh? Luckily, the Senonusians responded quickly to the sudden flood of distress calls coming from Matria Prime! I’m glad to see that they’ve been able to build up a better defence force than the Matrians have over the past two years!”
“The troops on the surface got into one heck of a scrap with the Matrian planetary security forces. It seems like they were trying to get into the Queen’s private chambers. While I sympathize, it’s probably a good thing that Queen Anselia was nowhere near there when they attacked. With Mr. T’Parief’s assistance, along with that of the Hazardous Team, the attackers were contained until they were retrieved.”
“The space debris that may have held the key to Matria’s past has been completely destroyed, although Jeffery, Valtaic and Fifebee were able to retrieve some data. Sylvia is trying to process the data now. Maybe the Old Matrian Empire has some information on who these Qu’eh are!”
“Your Majesty,” Stafford said, bowing slightly as Queen Anselia was escorted into the conference lounge by her bodyguards. The rest of his officers rose to their feet in an atypical display of respect, “I’m very sorry about the loss of Docking Station One, and the Matrians who were killed,”
“Blaming you will not bring my people back,” Anselia said diplomatically, “But we are more concerned with the long-term implications of this attack.”
“We knew it was bound to happen,” Stafford said, “Matria made her share of enemies over the past century,”
“Yes,” Anselia held out a data padd, “This is the information we have on the Qu’eh. According to my staff, it comes from sources that Lt. Commander Fifebee believes have been tampered with; however, it is a start,”
Fifebee took the padd.
“Encountered prior to the Gender Wars,” Fifebee said, quickly analyzing the information and giving the key facts, “They were one of the Matrian Empire’s major trading partners, up until trade broke down. Their culture appears to put a lot of emphasis on personal productivity for the betterment of their people’s financial standing,”
“Huh?” Yanick asked.
“Ferengi communists,” Fifebee said, “Sort of,”
“Oookay,” Jall said. His earlier argument with Stafford had been momentarily set aside, “What about their ships? Their technology? Anything that wouldn’t be two centuries out of date?”
“No,” Fifebee replied immediately.
“We cannot easily defend ourselves against another attack,” Anselia said, “And we have lost our main space dock!”
“We’ll do better next time around,” Yanick said hopefully.
“We weren’t exactly at our best today,” Wowryk added darkly.
Anselia looked questioningly at Stafford.
“Uh, we had some personnel problems,” he said quickly, “Jeffery, what’s our status?”
“Shields are back up,” Jeffery said, “We have minor hull damage in several sections and replicators are still down. We’re just restoring life support to decks 30 to 36 right now,”
“Excellent,” Stafford said, “You see, your Majesty, we’ll defend this planet, or die trying,”
“Please don’t say that,” Jall muttered.
“We appreciate your efforts-“
Anselia was cut off as the red alert sirens prompted sounded, red lights flashing.
“Danger, one minute to warp core breach,” Sylvia announced calmly, then, in a much sharper tone, “Jeffery, what the hell did you do?”
“What?” Everybody in the room jumped to their feet and bolted towards the bridge, Jeffery slapping his comm-badge mid-step, “Jeffery to engineering! What’s happenin’ down there?”
“I don’t know, sir!” Frit Naketh’s voice came back, “The warp core is destabilizing! The containment fields are failing and the reaction in the intermix chamber is approaching critical!”
“Shut it down!” Stafford snapped. Jeffery was already at the engineering station on the bridge, tapping in commands.
“The computer’s refusing my shutdown commands!” Jeffery cried.
“Sylvia!” Stafford shouted.
“It’s not me!” Sylvia shouted back, “There’s something in the computer core! It’s taken control of the warp core!”
“Can you override it?”
“I’m trying!” Sylvia’s voice suddenly changed, becoming more mechanical as the audio warning subroutines kicked in, “Two minutes to warp core breach,”
“Two?” Jall asked.
“It’s working,” Jeffery said, watching his panel like a hawk, “She’s beatin’ it back!”
“Three minutes to warp core breach,”
“Come on, Sylvia!” Stafford urged, “Kick that thing’s electronic butt!”
Sylvia’s holographic avatar started flickering as more and more of her resources were dedicated to the fight.
“Shit,” Jeffery swore, “It’s using some kind of adaptive algorithm! It’s rebuilding itself faster than she can pick it apart!”
“One minute to warp core breach,”
Sylvia’s hologram vanished in a sudden shower of holographic sparks.
“Sylvia!” Yanick cried.
“Thirty seconds to warp core breach,” announced the old, nearly forgotten voice of a standard Starfleet computer core, speaking without a trace of Sylvia’s more vibrant tones.
“The core is going critical!” Jeffery snapped, “And Sylvia’s…Sylvia’s…offline?”
“Eject the core!” Stafford ordered.
“Eject the core!” Frit Naketh ordered, passing the order to her brother, Frat.
“I can’t reach!” Frat cried, jumping up and trying to get his hands on the control panel. The stools they usually used too help them reach the consoles had been thrown around in the attack. Frit and Frek rushed around, frantically trying to find something to stand on. Finally, Frat simply jumped up on Frek’s shoulders, located the needed control and slammed his hand down.
On Silverado’s belly, at the very bottom of the engineering section, a series of hull panels quickly retracted. A series of explosive bolts fired and Silverado’s warp core, over ten decks of swirling, focused energy, shot out like a very long spitball from a straw. Seconds later, it detonated in a staggering release of energy.
Stafford slowly picked himself up, rubbing his neck. The jolt from the warp core explosion had shaken the ship hard, sending everybody to the deck. Queen Anselia was standing next to the turbolift, supported by her bodyguards and looking dazed. The red alert klaxon was still sounding, and a torrent of damage reports, injury reports and shouts of ‘What the f**k was that?’ was flooding the comm channels.
“Report!” Stafford barked.
“Warp core is gone,” Jeffery said, almost groaning, “We’re running on auxiliary power only! There’s structural damage on the lower decks and the shields are down again!”
“What about that computer…thing?” Stafford asked.
Jeffery tapped at his panel.
“Gone,” Jeffery said. Fifebee quickly started analyzing the information he had collected.
“It appears to have been a virus,” she reported, “An extremely sophisticated one, designed to take control of engineering systems and cause a reactor overload. It is beyond the Matrian’s current level of technology,”
“Then we have found the cause of the orbital habitat’s destruction,” Valtaic said.
“Ah’d say so,” Jeffery said.
“Sylvia?” Stafford said, “Are you OK?”
He and Jeffery exchanged worried glances.
“Oh,” Jall said, “We are SO f**ked!”
Captain’s Log, Supplemental:
This time I completely agree with Mr. Jall. We are f**ked. Completely, totally and utterly f**ked. Some kind of computer virus infected our systems and caused our warp core to overload. We’ve ejected the core, but now we’re under threat of attack, far from Starfleet and without the means to defend ourselves!”
“Oh, we are so, so f**ked.
It had been barely an hour since the warp core explosion. Repair teams were climbing frantically over the ship, fixing what could be fixed quickly and making note of what would take more time. Science teams were digging apart Silverado’s computer core and the data uploaded from the Matrian habitat, determined to ensure that another attack program wasn’t lurking, waiting for the chance to do something else really miserable, like shutting down life-support.
Stafford entered Computer Core Control to find Wowryk and Jeffery standing over Sylvia’s storage module. The neutronium-armored casing had been carefully removed to expose the neural gel-pack and isolinear processing circuits that made up the core of Sylvia’s personality.
“Injuries in Sickbay are under control,” Wowryk said, looking up briefly, “Just bumps, bruises and contusions. One broken ankle,”
“Thanks, doc,” Stafford said. He looked down into the open module, “Have you found anything?
“There’s nothin’ wrong with the electronic parts,” Jeffery said, “The isolinear processors and neural interface circuits are workin’ just like they’re supposed to. But the gel-pack isn’t respondin’,”
“She’s in a coma,” Wowryk said, tapping her tricorder and frowning.
“Some of these readings are similar to what you would see in a brain-scan of a coma patient,” Wowryk replied, turning her tricorder so Stafford could see an incomprehensible jumble of data, “She must have suffered some kind of mental trauma when she was trying to delete the virus,”
“Will she wake up? I mean, reactivate?” Stafford demanded.
“I don’t know,” Wowryk said, “I’ll need to run more tests,”
“It’s my fault,” Jeffery said grimly, “Ah shouldn’t have uploaded that data! If Ah’d followed the right procedures, this wouldn’t have happened!”
“Your orders were to get that data,” Stafford told him, “You followed orders. I just hope there’s something in there that makes this worth it!”
“Aye,” Jeffery said glumly.
“I want you to get in contact with Starfleet,” Stafford said, “We need a replacement core. Without we have no warp drive, weak shields, weak weapons, weak everything!”
“Aye,” Jeffery nodded, “And Ah’ll get in touch with the Matrians and the Senousians. Maybe one of them can fabricate somethin’ we can use in the meantime.”
“I think they’ve got enough problems on their hands already,” Stafford said, “But it can’t hurt to ask.”
Jeffery left. Stafford looked uncomfortably at Wowryk for several moments.
“It wasn’t your fault either,” he finally blurted out.
Wowryk looked taken aback.
“I didn’t say it was,” she replied.
“But I bet you were thinking it,” Stafford said.
Wowryk crossed her arms.
“I shouldn’t have been in command,” she said, “I didn’t know what I was doing. If I’d been faster, if somebody else had been on the bridge, we might have saved the station, and all those people,” she swallowed, “I was giving the orders, and they all died,”
“We might have saved them,” Stafford said, “But it was the Qu’eh that killed them, not you. We can’t spend the time now second-guessing ourselves. We’re in deep shit, and we need to focus on how to get this situation under control!”
“Yes,” Wowryk said. She looked down at the module containing Sylvia. She carefully lifted the module.
“I’ll be in Sickbay,” she said, “Don’t worry, Chris. I’ll find a way to bring her back,”
Jall was in Impulse Engineering when Stafford found him.
“Mr. Jall,” Stafford said carefully, “What’s up?”
“We’re running diagnostics on the impulse reactors Jall said, using the same careful tone, “We’re going to need as much power as these things can produce until we get a new warp core,”
“Good thinking,” Stafford said.
“Have you talked to Jeffery and Wowryk yet?”
“Why would I do that?” Stafford said neutrally.
“It was Jeffery’s screw-up that put that virus in our systems,” Jall said flatly, “And according to the bridge logs, Wowryk was sleeping when the first distress call came through.”
“You noticed that, did you?”
“Hell yes, I noticed that!”
“Jeffery did what he had to do to complete his mission,” Stafford said, “If he hadn’t uploaded that data, we would have lost it completely!”
“There have to be other ways to get the information the Matrians want,” Jall said, “And even if there aren’t, how can it possibly have been worth it?”
“Hopefully, Fifebee will find something in there that we can use,” Stafford said, “And I’ve already talked to both Wowryk and Jeffery,”
“And,” Stafford sighed wearily, “I think we’re going to have problems with those two. Wowryk completely blew it, and you know it’s not easy for somebody to get over something like that.”
“I guess that means you don’t have time for problems with me?”
Stafford looked at his First Officer.
“You’re right,” he said bluntly.
“Fine,” Jall said, “Just remember, this isn’t over between us,”
“Fine,” Stafford said.
“I will say this,” Jall said, “At least you’re learning. A year ago, you probably wouldn’t have given the situations with Wowryk and Jeffery a second thought.
“Maybe, maybe not,” Stafford said, “But one thing is for sure: We’re all going to need to learn if we plan on surviving this mission,”