Author: Brendan Chris
Welcome to Matrian Space.
Centuries ago, the Matrians were a thriving, advanced civilization. With colony worlds both within their own star system and beyond, the Matrians existed peacefully with most of their neighbours, trading goods, technology and knowledge. Matrian women, though renowned for their beauty, were also known for their hard-edge bargaining skills, aggressive negotiation tactics and obsession with all things sports-related.
The men, on the other hand, were renowned for being dull-witted pretty-boys.
And while they had successfully evolved as a race, the women were getting sick of it. And so, using genetic engineering traded from one of their neighbours they upgraded their men; giving them the intelligence, the skill and the aggression that they themselves possessed. This was not a Good Idea.
Within a generation, tensions in the Matrian Empire had reached extremes never before experienced in their history, with men demanding a larger share in government, business and the Matrian Defence Fleet. The women, suddenly finding themselves with new competition, resisted strongly. This stalemate held for years, until a group of radical men destroyed the city of Matronus, a vast orbital habitat that served as the capitol of the Matrian Empire.
The destruction of Matronus was the spark that ignited total civil war, a war that would last for nearly a century, devastating both sides. And, of course, with males and females too busy making war to make children (sucks to be them!), the population of the Empire began to plummet, despite measures taken by both sides to replenish their numbers.
Finally, a group of female scientists completed their ultimate weapon: the Matrian Spatial Interphase Device. Capable of causing drastic (though temporary) personality changes, the M-SIDs ended the war within a day.
But with their civilization all but destroyed, the victorious women realized that not only had the pride and stubbornness of their ancestors cost them nearly everything, life in the ruins of the Matrian Empire was going to be hard, brutally so.
And so they created a vast artificial reality named Dreamland, where they could wait, their bodies resting in suspended animation. The males, as punishment for their crimes, were sentenced to hard labour, as much as was necessary to restore their devastated planet. Once the women emerged from hibernation they would join the men and together they would give rise to a new age, an age of a restored Matrian Empire, with peace and equality for all.
Of course, somebody fucked it up.
A young Mistress named Laurette, still bitter from the war, managed to convince the Council of Governors that the men could never be trusted. And that instead of peaceful co-existence, they should focus on creating a vast army of male slaves with which to begin a war of conquest that would firmly plant Matria Prime in a position of power over the neighbouring star systems.
This didn’t work so well either.
Encountering a vast alliance of planets far from their home territory, the Matrians thought they had located the perfect man: a man who had a complete and utter adoration of women, a man who could be controlled and manipulated, to serve as the velvet glove for the iron fist they would use to squeeze the resistance from the rest of the galaxy.
There were two things they didn’t realize: First: one star system is really nothing in the big picture. Second:when you mess with the Federation you’re usually making a mistake.
The next thing you know, the Federation Starship Silverado came onto the scene, trashing Laurette’s plan for domination and re-awakening the women of Matria Prime.
With the collapse of the M-SID network, the newly awakened women came to learn two things: One: their original plan of peaceful co-existence was a better one. Two: Centuries of war and suspended animation had all but erased any memory of the Old Matrian Empire. Nobody alive had lived in that time, and Laurette’s reign in Dreamland had resulted in twisted recollections, altered computer records and general overall confusion.
Two years after the re-awakening, the Matrians found themselves again dealing with the U.S.S. Silverado, on the eve of their entry into the Federation. And, as one can expect, all hell promptly broke loose.
This time however, the Matrians and the Federation found themselves allied against the threat of the Qu-Eh, a race bent on invading and conquering the new Matrian Republic. But with reinforcements so far away, Matria Prime quickly fell to the enemy.
But as both the Matrians and the Silverado crew were to find, every government loves a good secret, and the best-kept secrets are usually the ones that can have the largest impacts.
Matria Prime, Installation 317, One week after the Qu-Eh invasion:
Christopher Stafford pulled himself out of bed and groaned, trying to stretch the kinks out of his lanky frame. He looked at his reflection in the gleaming metal panel that was currently serving as a mirror, noticing that his stomach was flatter than it had been in years.
“Nothing like a week of field rations to help you lose weight,” he mumbled, fishing around for his uniform and wrinkling his nose in disgust upon finding it.
“Huh?” his neighbour grumbled.
“Nothing, Jeffery,” Stafford mumbled, fishing around for a can of deodorant and proceeding to empty half the can into his wadded up uniform jacket.
They’d been living in the abandoned underground installation for a week now, and they still hadn’t figured out how to open the damned doors in the place. In fact, the entire installation had been put into a state of lock-down prior to being abandoned, sealing off the vast majority of the facility, shutting down most of the computer systems and severely limiting access to pretty much everything. As a result, the two or so thousand Starfleet personnel, Matrian civilians and Matrian government personnel who had been evacuated there were living out in the open areas of the massive facility. Jeffery’s cot, rather than being in a separate room, in a separate set of quarters on a separate deck, was about a meter from Stafford’s. And Jeffery snored. A lot.
The Matrians had claimed one of the buried, underground hangers, believing that remaining in the single hanger still open to the outside world was a bad idea. (And honestly, that’s only common sense, right?) The Starfleet personnel had claimed the huge transit hub in the center of the facility, setting up their cots and stacking their small mountain of ration packs on empty tram platforms, in stairways and next to what could be information booths or security checkpoints.
From what they could tell, the installation seemed to consist of an outer ring which contained hanger bays, transit stations and endless kilometers of corridors. (They assumed it contained other things as well, but since the doors were sealed, they didn’t really know what, yet.) At the various transit stations they could board trams, which would presumably take them anywhere in the installation. Unfortunately, with the lockdown, the only destinations that seemed to work were the hanger that was open to the surface and the transit hub in what Fifebee believed was the center of the facility. Six pairs of tram platforms lined the other wall of the hub, each with curving, windowed booths guarding the platform exits. Just past these booths was a strangely fancy staircase with twin corridors leading into a maze of hallways and rooms surrounding the hub. The first two levels contained broad, double-sized blast doors that sealed off…something. The third connected to a crossover bridge that gave access to the inner platforms of the hub, even more corridors and locked rooms and even turbolifts that could access the installation’s command center.
So for days, Jeffery, Fifebee and Valtaic had spent their time trying to break into the installations computer systems while Stafford, Queen Anselia and Yanick tried to get everybody settled in. So far, the Matrians were too shell-shocked to put up much resistance, and the Starfleet personnel had been trained for survival situations.
But they knew that the relative peace couldn’t last.
“Hey. What’s new?” Stafford asked dully as Jeffery joined him for breakfast. The two of them were sitting on empty cargo containers, using a larger container as a table. They’d found a suitable corner in which to setup a sort of makeshift mess hall.
“Valtaic wants to start cutting through doors,” Jeffery shrugged, “And Fifebee’s convinced that what we’re doing is completely useless and that her time would be better spent trying to make these bloody ration-packs taste better. Oh, and Ah’m gonna try to extract Sylvia tomorrow,” He emphasized his point by tearing open one corner of his “Western Rokeg Omlette”, taking a bite and turning a sickening shade of green.
“Ah don’t think Ah can eat this shit,” he gasped, trying to force himself to swallow.
“Meh,” Stafford grunted, looking down at his own “Targ Sausage with Hashbrowns,” packet and trying not to gag, “I guess outsourcing our survival rations to a Klingon company wasn’t the smartest thing Starfleet’s ever done,”
“Ye should come up to the command center today,” Jeffery went on, “Ah mean, Anselia’s up there almost every day, and ye never know, we might actually find something today,”
“Meh,” Stafford shrugged.
Jeffery spit his mouthful of omelette back into the package and fished around in the ration bag for something more palatable. Stafford was obviously still wallowing in self-pity over the whole Qu’Eh invasion, but frankly, Jeffery really didn’t feel like investing any more time in dragging the guy out of his funk. He had too much work to do.
“Screw breakfast,” Jeffery grumbled, tossing his ration pack into an empty cargo container that was now serving as a trash can, “And if ye can’t pull yerself out of this rut, then screw ye too!”
With that, he stalked away.
“Huh?” Stafford looked up. Seeing that Jeffery was gone, he went back to his disgusting breakfast.
Up in the command center, Fifebee and Valtaic weren’t doing much better.
“I recall,” Valtaic was saying, “That during my computer security training, there was a technique for bypassing lockouts that involved a sort of fractal decryption sequence. If we could program an engineering tricorder to-“
“Nope, won’t work,” Fifebee said, cutting him off.
“Because Riven, and I’m getting tired of repeating this, sweetie,” Fifebee said, putting her hands on her hips, “Any kind of decryption program we could run would require an input of some kind! And we have found no functional input ports, command lines pathways or even a USB port! It’s useless!”
“I do not agree!” Valtaic said, his energy field coming to life momentarily before he could reign in his impulses.
“And stop doing that! You know it messes up my holo-relay, and my program is already unstable enough!”
Fifebee had unknowingly been playing host to Sylvia’s personality ever since an Old Matrian computer virus had sent her into a cybernetic coma and destroyed Silverado’s warp core. Sylvia had taken refuge in her personality database, but it had taken some time for her crewmates to realize what had happened. Now Jeffery was insisting that she try to bring Sylvia’s personality to the surface, as much as possible, so it could be successfully extracted. The result was that Fifebee’s own personality was conflicting with Sylvia’s, leaving her in a somewhat confused (and annoying) state.
“Could you not try altering the hardware pathways?” Valtaic asked again.
“No, without prior knowledge of the cream cheese pathways, the smoked salmon would be completely useless,”
Fifebee blinked, mentally reviewing what she’d just said.
“Sylvia, stop that! I’m trying to work here, and I can’t concentrate if all you can do is worry about recipes!” she snapped.
“You stop it!” she snapped again, the timbre of her voice changing slightly, “Just because WE don’t eat doesn’t mean we don’t have to worry about food!”
“No, YOU shut up!”
Watching the holographic officer argue with herself, Valtaic became even more convinced that their chances of accomplishing anything prior to Sylvia and Fifebee’s separation would be negligible.
“Ladies,” he said, “You are annoying me, and we have work to do,”
Valtaic looked at Fifebee calmly.
“And which of you said that?” he asked calmly.
“She did!” Fifebee snapped, her voice taking on a weird, stereo-like quality.
“By the Great Firefly,” Valtaic groaned, leaning against a panel.
Elsewhere in the installation, T’Parief was returning to the Matrian camp.
“Hi!” Yanick said happily, running up and giving him a big hug, “I’m glad to see you!”
“Are you?” he asked.
“Well, you sorta stink right now. And everybody’s grumpy. And this place sucks,” Yanick went on, “But yeah, I’m happy to see you,”
“Good, then,” T’Parief nodded.
“So, what’s up?” Yanick asked.
I have come to inform Queen Anselia that we must begin cutting doors open, even if she does not want to damage this facility,” T’Parief said, “I have been exploring for the past week, and aside from hanger bays, transit stations and corridors, I have found nothing but doors! DOORS!” he roared, “Big doors, little doors, round doors, cargo doors, one that may even be a doggy-door. BUT NONE OF THEM WILL OPEN!!!!”
“Are you happy to see me?” Yanick asked suddenly.
“We have attempted to override them, but there is no power to the door circuits. We have attempted to force them open, but they seem to have mechanical locking systems to prevent that. THE CUTTING MUST BEGIN!”
“In other words, NO,” Yanick cried out, “You’re so obsessed with this place that you’re not even listening to me!”
With that, she spun on her heel and stalked off.
T’Parief stood there for a moment.
“What?” he grumbled.
Noticing that the nearby Matrians were starting to stare, he realized that he either had to follow her and continue this discussion or find Anselia and get to work.
Perhaps, he decided, by ignoring her outburst he would be signalling Trish that her concerns were needless and not even worth considering. Yeah, that would be the way to go.
Looking around, he attempted to locate Anselia.
Stafford sat in the small information booth/security checkpoint/frozen beverage stand/whatever that he’d commandeered as an office. The door wouldn’t shut (oh the irony), the computer terminal was powerless and he had no real paperwork to speak of, just a padd on which he’d been taking a few notes about their situation. Somebody had left him a note with directions to a newly located lavatory. He knew they were in dire straights as far as facilities went (the Mr. Sani units would only last so long) but this one looked like at least a fifteen minute walk. Around the corner from his little booth were rows of empty cots setup against the platform walls, stacks of cargo containers beamed down from Silverado before the final battle and a few pathetic attempts to make the place seem a bit more…homey. Yanick had a stuffed horse standing guard over her empty cot. T’Parief had, in a move that Stafford considered a disaster waiting to happen, hung his razor-sharp Parileth over his. Steven had pulled his Chris Richards warp-field print off the wall of Unbalanced Equations on his way out, and the tattered artwork was now flapping limply in the breeze in an empty space just over the crossover bridge that was now laughing called the lounge.
He watched as crewmembers moved around, some on tasks and errands, but most simply…waiting. Over six hundred officers, crew members and civilians from Silverado were now living in this central area, with most of them clustered along the edges of the ring-shaped, multi-track tram route. Families were clustered up on some of the balconies they’d found access to, and the overflow spilled out into the maze of corridors beyond the hub.
This wasn’t the first time they’d been separated from their ship. They’d been kidnapped by the Senousians during their first visit to Matrian Space, and had spent over a month wandering around the surface of Delori II believing their ship to be destroyed.
He lifted his head as the sounds of shouting suddenly broke out. Rushing out of his booth, he moved to investigate.
“No, you little bastard, this is MY Elaysian cloud-apple pie! Give it back!
“Hey, I had the ‘Gagh Goulash’ for lunch, and that’s the ONLY ration pack that comes with Elaysian cloud-apple!”
Taking a right into a main stairway, climbing to the second level, then making a left turn into a smaller (but still wide) pathway, Stafford found the source of the disturbance. Crewmen Gibson and Shwaluk were each clutching one end of a silver ration-packet, presumably containing the infamous pie.
“Give it to me, you little f**ker!” Shwaluk shouted.
“What the hell is going on here??” Stafford roared.
Both men turned to look at him. Gibson at least looked slightly guilty; Shwaluk was just glaring.
“Uh, we’re having a deep, philosophical debate?” Gibson said.
“Really? Then this has nothing to do with that piece of pie you’re both clutching like your lives depend on it?”
“This?” Shwaluk asked, trying now to look innocent, “Nope, nothing.”
With that, Stafford snagged the packet, yanked it from their surprised grasps, turned and walked away.
“Problem solved,” he called back over his shoulder.
Walking back out to platform level, he started wondering just what they were doing wrong. They’d managed over a month on Deloria, and they’d been scattered all over the planet’s surface. Why were they cracking up now, after barely a week? They had food, water and places to sleep. They were safe from the invading Qu’eh forces and Starfleet reinforcements were on the way.
So why were they going so bonkers?
“We cannot condone any damage to any Old Matrian relics,” Queen Anselia was saying for what felt like the five hundredth time, “We simply cannot risk losing any-“
“We are living like animals,” T’Parief interrupted her, “And while I, personally, prefer it that way, neither your people nor my crewmates agree. And considering the magnitude of what we’ve found in the few unlocked spaces, we must determine what the Old Matrians were so eager to hide!”
Anselia took a quick look around, making sure none of her people were in earshot.
“We have not revealed that discovery to our people,” she hissed.
The discovery she was referring to was the discovery of a room full of Old Matrian men, found in suspended animation in a laboratory several levels below the transit hub. Twelve unaltered men, and one altered. The unaltered Matrians, almost child-like in mentality, were under the careful care of Madame Schoonbaert, Silverado’s schoolteacher. The thirteenth was off somewhere, hiding in the installation. T’Parief had security teams looking for him, but there were a hell of a lot of places for him to hide.
“We cannot simply sit here, waiting for the Qu’Eh to find us!” T’Parief insisted.
“Look, Lizard-Man,” Anselia shot back, “Under what pretext do you presume to tell us what to do?”
“As I recall, your people wanted Starfleet Security to play a major role in your own planetary security,” T’Parief stated.
Anselia bit her tongue.
“We will take this to the Minister of Defence,” she decided, “And we will each present our cases.”
“All right then.”
They glared at each other for a moment.
“Uh, do you remember the way to the transit station?” Anselia asked.
“No,” T’Parief said, “But I have a map.”
“Oh, good. Let’s go.”
“Teriaki the power conduit cheeses,” Fifebee said calmly as she and Valtaic exited the turbolift and began navigating towards the hub.
“You are annoying me greatly,” Valtaic observed.
“Fondu!” Fifebee snapped.
“You could simply stop speaking until you have this problem figured out,” Valtaic suggested.
Fifebee was silent for a moment.
“I believe Sylvia’s personality subroutines have decided to restrain themselves long enough for me to pass on a message to you,” she said.
“Really? Please, do share it,”
“Extract the pole from your ass, shut up, and stop pestering us!”
“I do not believe you have ever been this rude,”
“You try playing host to an extra identity!”
Stafford stood calmly on a platform edge, looking out at the ring of anti-grav tracks that circled the central column of the hub. Some came in, merging with the rings, other went out, disappearing down under the ‘main’ level. The tram platforms around the central column were just as crowded as the platforms running along the outer edge. But given the size of the place, it didn’t take long to find an empty corner. Walking along the platform, Stafford eased into a smaller stairway and sat down on the top step.
For the moment at least, he could have a bit of piece and quiet. And a bit of pie.
He’d barely taken a bite of his stolen desert when more voices broke the air.
“-going to be down here for a while, so you better drop that lousy attitude and shape up!”
“My attitude hasn’t changed in the slightest. You can hardly say the same,”
“Flambé the alternate route!”
He turned to see Valtaic and Fifebee approaching.
“Ah, Chris,” Fifebee said, “We need you to sauté a dispute. Sylvia, quit it! Just settle down and let me work!”
“I thought she wasn’t actually in there,” Stafford said dryly, pointing at Fifebee’s head.
“She isn’t. But she has very…aggressive personality routines!”
“Captain, we are unlikely to make any progress in the command center. We need to begin breaking through doors. Perhaps we can find a computer core, or an engineering space that has the access we require.”
“You mean the ‘on’ switch?” Stafford mused.
“We need to convince the Queen,” Stafford said, “She’s kinda touchy about this place,”
“Perhaps,” Fifebee started to suggest, “we could-“
She was interrupted as, with a whoosh of air, a small tram shot out from one of the large tunnels leading to the outer facility, merged deftly onto the central ring of track and slowed to a halt nearby. T’Parief and Anselia emerged.
After listening to T’Parief and Anselia present their cases, Stafford shrugged.
“Are we really in a hurry?” he asked, “I mean, more ships are coming-“
“That is no excuse to sit on our grorts and do nothing!” T’Parief said sharply.
“I agree,” Valtaic said.
“They have a point,” Stafford shrugged.
“We cannot damage this facility!” Anselia insisted, “A damaged data core, a power line or data connection severed at the wrong moment, and we could lose valuable information about our people!”
Fifebee was staring at the tram.
“I may have an icing…cream puff…IDEA!” she said.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Anselia asked.
“You could have stayed at the Starfleet camp,” Fifebee reminded her.
“She’s a hands-on kind of leader,” Stafford said, giving her a weak grin.
“Ah yes,” Valtaic said, “I had forgotten that the two of you are involved in a sexual relationship. How exactly have you managed to overcome the hygiene limitations of our current predicament?”
Stafford and Anselia blushed. Fifebee vomited. Holographic vomit, yes, but you get the point.
They were walking along the track that led into the tunnel that the tram had just come through. They were fairly sure that there was enough clearance on the side to keep them from being squished should another tram come by, but none of them really wanted to put that to the test.
“We should be almost there,” Fifebee said. Between the four of them, they had exactly one, tiny flashlight. For some reason, the supplies they’d beamed down before occupying the facility had been seriously lacking in flashlights.
The first time they’d used the tram, Fifebee, T’Parief, Valtaic and Jeffery had determined that the track exited the outer rim of the structure, traversed a wide, empty space, then re-entered some sort of central structure, one that towered to the very top of the vast mountain under which the facility was buried. Over the past week, the Silverado crew had found a total of six tracks, each leading from the outer edge inward, like spokes on a wheel. Exactly what was in the massive cavern they traversed was yet another mystery. One that Fifebee hoped to solve.
They became aware of a soft humming in the air.
“A force field,” Valtaic pointed.
Indeed, they’d found a faint, greenish field stretching across the tunnel. Beyond it, the track stretched on while the side walls and ceiling vanished.
Valtaic tentatively reached out a hand. It passed through without resistance.
“Atmospheric containment field,” he said.
“Why?” Anselia wondered.
Stafford had leaned through the field, trying to look down beside the track. All he could see was a sheer drop. Suddenly, he started gasping, bringing one hand to his mouth before pulling his head back behind the field.
“I don’t think there’s any oxygen over there!” he gasped.
Fifebee pulled out her tricorder. The device was largely useless inside the jamming field that hid the facility, but it did work within a radius of a few feet.
“Nitrogen,” she said, “Luckily, nothing dangerous. Otherwise, you would be dead now.” Her features shimmered for a moment, her hair lightening and her eyes growing softer. When she spoke, her voice was eerily Sylvia- lie.
“And really, Chris, we have safety precautions for a reason!”
“Oops,” Stafford said softly.
As quickly as they’d appeared, the vestiges of Sylvia vanished.
“I, however, can explore without fear of harm, provided I stay within range of my relay,” Fifebee said, her voice crisp, “Excuse me,”
And with that, she stepped outside the field and stepped off the edge of the track, falling immediately out of sight.
While they waited for Fifebee to finish wandering around outside, Stafford, Anselia and T’Parief took the turbolift up to the command center.
Stafford and Anselia had been shocked the first time they’d seen the curved, pod-shaped command complex. The multi-levelled design with the central holographic command table, surrounded by a ring of outward-facing workstations was almost identical to the layout of the War Room deep underneath the Matrian Defence HQ building. At the lowest level, a thick turbolift column emerged from the deck with three equally spaced turbolifts opening out onto a ring-shaped walkway. Massive windows curved outward, looking out into the blackness of the cavern. Three evenly spaced, curved stairways led up to the second level and another ring-shaped walkway that circled the outer edge of the complex. Dark display screens covered the walls, and Fifebee believed that there may even be additional doors hidden in that blank surface, though she didn’t know where they might lead. Finally, three more curved stairways led to the central command area, a circular platform perched atop the turbolift column. The central holo-table was showing an image of Matria Prime, along with tiny icons representing the occupying Qu’Eh fleet. Overhead, another set of curved windows was covered by either rock or sand. According to Valtaic, this was a strong indication that the installation wasn’t originally entirely underground, although Jeffery had already figured that out from the buried hanger bays.
“I absolutely hate this place,” Stafford said, gripping the handrail as he climbed the steps to the third level, trying not to look down at the two- level drop that would see him either splattering against one of the lower windows or worse; smashing through the window and falling dozens of levels to the cavern floor.
“We love it,” Anselia said, not showing the slightest hint of discomfort, “It’s…familiar. Yet mysterious,”
“Uh huh,” As quickly as he could, Stafford scurried up onto the command deck and moved as far away from the edge as he could.
“Ye came!” Jeffery said, surprised. The engineer was underneath one of the consoles, electronic bits and pieces scattered all around him. He reached one hand into the panel, “I’m just about to try somethin’ here!”
“You aren’t damaging anything, are you?” Anselia asked quickly.
Jeffery, possibly tired of having had her watching over his shoulder for at least four hours a day all week, shot a glare in her direction.
“Ah pulled it apart, Ah can put it back together!” he said, defensively.
“Just like the force-field concealing the inner facility?”
“Ah was being shot at!”
“Jeffery, we just sent Fifebee outside one of the transit tunnels for a look around,” Stafford said. He was choosing to ignore Jeffery’s earlier comment, in the hopes of avoiding any more conflict that day.
“Huh? Oh. Whot did she find?”
“We don’t know yet, we just sent her,” T’Parief rumbled, “May I start cutting down doors now?”
“No!” Anselia exclaimed.
“Yes!” Jeffery suggested, still manipulating the console innards.
Stafford looked uneasily back at T’Parief and Anselia as the two stared at him.
“Ah got it!” Jeffery cried. With a soft hum, the console he was working on hummed to life.
“Oh, Ah am good!” he said, climbing to his feet. He started tapping at the console, resulting in a series of flat-sounding tones.
“Uh,” he frowned.
“What?” Stafford and Anselia demanded.
“It’s locked,” Jeffery said, “None of the controls are working, and the displays all say ‘This facility has been locked and can only be unlocked by an administrator’.”
There was an explosion of sparks from underneath the console, then it went dead.
“You imbecile!” Anselia snapped.
“Oops,” Stafford sighed.
“That’s it, Ah give up!” Jeffery said, throwing his hands up in the air, “We’d have better luck getting under Noel’s panties that we’re gonna have with this…place…”
His voice trailed off.
Stafford, T’Parief and Jeffery exchanged nervous glances. Wowryk, Jall and much of the Beta Shift officers had still been aboard Silverado when the Qu’Eh had disabled her.
“The Qu’Eh were taking prisoners at the end, Jeffery,” Stafford said softly, “She’s probably still alive, sitting in a Qu’Eh brig somewhere,”
“Or being tortured for information,” T’Parief mused.
“Ye son of a-“
Jeffery leapt at the larger officer, who simply put out one hand and held the shorter man at bay.
“Jeffery, quit it. T’Parief, none of that talk!” Stafford said, “I’m sure she and Jall are…fine.”
“Tell HIM that!” Jeffery snapped.
“I just did,” Stafford said calmly.
“And say it like you actually CARE about something!”
“Jeffery,” he said flatly, almost as though he hadn’t heard the engineer, “I want you to get ready to extract Sylvia’s personality from Fifebee’s database.”
“Oh fine, worry about HER!”
“And T’Parief?” Stafford turned to the reptile, “You may cut open ONE door,
Stafford had returned to the Starfleet Camp to wait for status reports from his people. He really didn’t want to be around T’Parief and Anselia, what with the two of them bickering over which door to open and over the risk of damaging whatever it was Anselia was worried about damaging. He definitely didn’t want to be around Jeffery. He wasn’t sure what the man’s problem was this time. They’d come to blows on Deloria II when Jeffery had accused Stafford of doing nothing to lead their survival attempt, but Stafford knew darned well that this time he was planning, leading and doing all that fun stuff.
Through the transparent window of his booth he could see another tram easing up against the closest platform. The door hissed open and Trish Yanick appeared.
Stafford groaned. He really didn’t want to see her either. He’d assigned her as the Starfleet/Matrian Liaison Officer right before all hell had broken out, mostly because neither he nor Anselia had wanted to deal with the Matrian reporters. Now she was spending most of her time out at the Matrian camp trying to help the disorganized group of civilians manage their situation. If she was here now then there was probably a problem.
“Hi Chris!” she said, popping her head into his booth.
“Hi,” Stafford said flatly, ignoring the wave of BO emanating from Yanick and hoping she was doing the same for him, “I’d offer you a seat, but I don’t think there’s room for two people in here,” Or enough air, he added silently.
“Oh, that’s fine!” She vanished for a moment, then reappeared with an empty cargo box, which she promptly dropped to the floor with a bang. She sat, then leaned in.
“So, the Matrians have started playing with some of the ships we found,”
“Really?” Stafford was surprised. They’d fond a total of twelve hanger bays so far, many containing Old Matrian patrol ships, fighters, scout ships and even a couple of medium-attack ships. Since the doors to all the occupied hangers were buried in sand, nobody had really given the ships a second thought. Until now apparently.
“Any luck?” he asked.
“Not really,” Yanick shrugged, “They’re out of gas. They’re trying to get one of them hooked up to the facility fuel supply. They want a couple of technicians to help them out.”
“Take your pick,” Stafford said, gesturing around at the bored-looking crewmen wandering around the camp.
“Goody!” Yanick clapped, “Pixies, choosies!”
She ran out of the room.
Waving his hand in front of his face to clear the scent of their combined BO, Stafford wondered just what the hell that was supposed to mean.
A few hours later…
“Why am I here?” Nurse Kerry asked, standing next to the corridor wall with her arms crossed.
“Because the last time I tried exploring, I nearly killed myself,” Stafford said calmly.
“Then maybe you should just stay at home?” Kerry suggested.
“That’s what my mom says,” Stafford agreed.
“If you are finished with your debate, I would like to start the destruction now,” T’Parief said.
The three of them, along with Queen Anselia, were gathered around a fairly non-descript door. After much heated debate, Anselia and T’Parief had selected a door to open. Of course, they had to choose one that was about fifteen levels above the transit hub, a choice that had left Stafford cursing their names for every minute he’d spent climbing up a stairway they’d found; one that seemed to follow the turbo-shafts leading up to the command complex. So far, each new level that had been explored had yielded nothing but more locked doors. But from the layout of the corridors, they’d been convinced that somewhere between the hub and the command complex, the structure had slimmed down into a tower.
Anyway, they had picked a door. Now, as T’Parief lowered the cutting phaser towards the door panels Anselia closed her eyes and Stafford crossed his fingers.
Fifebee suddenly fizzled into view, one arm outstretched.
T’Parief almost cut through the door anyway, but at the last minute decided that maybe listening to the science officer would be a good idea.
“Yes, Fifebee, what is it?” Stafford sighed.
“You didn’t think that it might be a good idea to wait for my report before you started breaking and entering?” Fifebee demanded.
“Well…T’Parief really wanted to…” Stafford said, digging one toe into the carpet.
“Do not blame this on me,” T’Parief grumbled.
“But it was your idea!”
“We’re on an island!” Fifebee interrupted.
That caught everybody’s attention.
“An ISLAND???” Stafford exclaimed.
“An island.” Fifebee repeated, “A piece of land, surrounded by water,”
“I KNOW what an ISLAND is!”
“After I reached ground level, which was a considerable drop, I might add, I found many items of interest. First, as I mentioned, this central complex is on an island,” Fifebee explained, “There is a lake of unknown depth surrounding us on all sides. I do not know if it reaches as far as the outer facility, but if they are using it as a security measure against intruders, it seems likely,”
“Clever,” T’Parief nodded, “Infiltration would be more difficult if one had to search for an island in the middle of a pitch-black, underground lake,”
“And the tram bridges are probably easily defended,” Stafford agreed, “What else did you find?”
“We are currently located in a six-sided structure, which appears to cover the majority of the island. I do not know the shape of the structure aside from this, but given that the command complex appears to be located at its peak, I assume it is a tapered tower of some form.” Fifebee answered. Evidently, Sylvia’s personality subroutines were finding this topic too dull to be worth interrupting, “I also found several other structures of varying shapes and sizes located between this one and the lakeshore. They were locked, similar to this one. I suspect that they are linked to this structure, probably through an underground connection on a level below that of the transit hub,”
“Underground links…in a facility that’s already underground,” Anselia mused, “What were our ancestors building down here?”
“In any event, we’re not exploring that lake,” Stafford decided, “We’re just going to have to focus on this island and the outer ring…”
“Then let us begin!” T’Parief said, raising the phaser torch again.
Fifebee looked at him in annoyance, shimmered for a moment, then stepped through the door, her tricorder clattering to the deck..
Stafford’s eyebrows lifted, Anselia gasped in surprise and Nurse Kerry yawned. T’Parief simply looked disappointed.
“I’d forgotten she can do that,” Stafford said.
Seconds later, Fifebee re-emerged.
“It is dark,” she said, “But I believe this room is an office-space of some kind. There are workstations, windows, cheesy motivational posters and what I believe is the equivalent of a Matrian coffee-maker.
“Why the f**k didn’t you do that a week ago??” Stafford exclaimed, “Do you know how much trouble you could have saved us???”
“I was busy,” Fifebee said testily, “And I didn’t realize it was such a big deal! And if you continue to bother me about it, Christopher Rico Stafford, I assure you I WILL tell the story about you and your jolly- jumper!”
“I guess she has some of Sylvia’s memories, too,” he said shakily, “Hey, did the coffee maker have any coffee next to it?”
“Yes, though it is probably two hundred years old,”
“T’Parief, take that door down!”
The reptile grinned as he re-activated the cutting phaser.
The next morning, with a steaming cup of Matrian coffee helping his breakfast down, Stafford took a moment to thank the Old Matrians for using stasis-bags, like any technologically advanced society. Valtaic had abandoned his work in the command complex and was instead pouring over the scorched and dismantled remains of the office door that T’Parief had phasered in the hopes of finding an easier way to open other doors. Jeffery was working on the small Federation computer core the rebel Matrians had transferred Fifebee to, preparing to extract Sylvia. Assuming all went according to plan, the two AI women could then start identifying which doors needed to be opened.
Stafford sighed. Of course, he should have known better than to think that he could walk through the camp without somebody wanting his attention for something or other.
“What?” he asked.
“Uh,” it was Ensign Kennerdy, one of the junior security officers, “I have the security report in from our teams tracking the Naked Ninja, and-“
“The what?” Stafford interrupted, not stopping his brisk walk towards the turbolift.
“Uh, the Matrian male who escaped after the stasis pods were accidentally opened,” Kennerdy replied.
“Oh. Why aren’t you giving this to T’Parief?”
“He’s overseeing the overall exploration of this…uh, place,” Kennerdy said, “He told me to just give this to you,”
He offered Stafford the padd.
“I don’t want it,” Stafford said flatly, “We have too much crap happening right now to worry about one, naked Matrian guy. How much trouble could he cause?”
“Well, um, Nurse Kerry was worried that without access to supplies, he might starve to death-“
“Oh, PLEASE!” Stafford exclaimed, “If he’s that frickin’ hungry, he can turn himself in! Kennerdy, pull your men off that search and re-assign them to T’Parief’s search. I’m far more concerned with finding a replicator or a working shower than I am about a single butt-naked Matrian!”
He stepped into the one functioning turbolift they’d found and hit the button for the laboratory level.
“Bye,” he said.
Kennerdy just blinked.
“Uh, OK,” he muttered.
Jeffery, Valtaic and Fifebee had setup their portable lab equipment in the large, now-empty genetics lab where they’d found the frozen Matrian men. Jeffery and Fifebee were currently huddled over Sylvia’s module and the small Federation computer core the Matrian Rebels had managed to get their hands on. Valtaic had paused in his door analysis to assist them. One of the corner workbenches had bits and pieces of door circuitry scattered across its surface, including a small AI module that was currently chanting ‘A door is ajar’ in Matrian.
“Ah really wish we had access to Silverado’s computer core,” Jeffery was saying.
“You and me both,” Fifebee said, “Did you know that my processing speed has been reduced by over two million computations per second on this core? I feel like an organic with brain damage!”
“And schizophrenia,” Valtaic pointed out helpfully.
“Yes, thank you for reminding me,” Fifebee said scornfully.
“Hmm, you’re welcome,” Valtaic said thoughtfully, “Clearly, if you’d forgotten, your program is farther degraded than we’d realized.”
“Why you-“ Fifebee jumped at him. Jeffery rushed to hold her back, and Valtaic reflexively pulsed his energy field. Fifebee flickered for a moment, and the computer core beeped angrily.
“Not around the equipment!” Jeffery snapped, moving between Valtaic and the core as if his body could protect it from the alien’s energy, “Do ye know what static electricity does to these things?”
“I do not generate static,” Valtaic said disdainfully, “What do you take me for, some primitive form of carpet?”
At that point, Stafford walked into the lab, the doors hissing shut behind him.
“Man,” he said, looking over his shoulder, “It seems too weird to see a set of doors that actually works. And do I really want to know why you guys are talking about carpet?”
“We are ready to attempt the transfer,” Fifebee said coolly, not answering the question. Jeffery simply shrugged.
“Ooookay,” Stafford said, “Do it,”
Jeffery looked at the terminal he’d setup on the workbench, attached to the computer core.
“OK, here it goes,” he said. He tapped a button.
Lines of code streamed over the display as Fifebee began shimmering. Her hair, which was a bizarre blend of Fifebee’s black bun and Sylvia’s shorter blondish-brown ‘do, started writhing, her uniform colours started shifting and her face blurred like melting candle wax.
“That is thoroughly disgusting,” Valtaic declared.
“Is this going to take long, Jeffery?” Stafford asked, a grimace on his face.
Before Jeffery could answer, Fifebee suddenly shattered into hundreds of pieces, a blinding light causing everybody to shield their eyes. When they turned back to look, there were two women standing where before there’d only been one.
“Sylvia!” Stafford exclaimed happily, rushing forward to pull the holographic woman into a hug, “I’m so glad to see you!”
“Chris!” Sylvia said, looking somewhat surprised, “Hi! I take it the virus was eliminated?”
Pulling back, Stafford looked around the alien laboratory they were standing in.
“Uh, not exactly.”
While Jeffery, Stafford and Valtaic brought Sylvia up to speed, another pair of eyes was watching.
Craigan, dressed only in a pair of shorts he’d swiped from the Starfleet camp, had concealed himself in a storage locker at the far side of the lab and was carefully watching the alien invaders through one of the ventilation slits. He’d had no idea what they were doing to begin with, and when one of them had suddenly broken apart, reforming into two women, it was all he could do not to gasp in shock.
He had no idea how long he’d been in stasis for. For that matter, he had no idea where he was. He was pretty sure he was still in Matrian Space, but the architecture and style of the complex he was in could belong to Matria Prime or any of the Primary Colonies. The lack of engine noise ruled out a ship, and as the one window he’d found so far looked out into pitch blackness, he could only assume he was underground.
But whomever had captured him had taken his equipment, his cloths, everything. Without them, it was almost impossible for him to complete his mission.
He had to re-connect with the Male Rebellion.
But first, he had to get out of this place. That would require a weapon. And leverage.
He watched as the aliens conversed, trying to learn something about the current situation.
“After that, the computer virus blew up the warp core and we were practically sitting ducks,” Stafford was saying, unaware that his Universal Translator was translating for an extra set of ears.
“Oh, I really thought the firewall I’d built around the warp core control systems was strong enough hold off that thing,” Sylvia said, crossing her arms, “Hey, does anybody want a mocha? I bet Jall does, if I can find him!”
“Jall…” Stafford trailed off, not entirely sure what to say.
“Jall, Wowryk and several other crewmembers were aboard Silverado when it was captured by the Qu’Eh,” Valtaic said bluntly.
Sylvia brought a hand to her mouth.
“What have we told ye about saying things like that,” Jeffery said, turning to face Valtaic.
“With the amount of time you people waste on pointless dialogue and exposition, I have decided that you need somebody capable of stating the obvious,”
“Not when ye make people CRY!”
“Oh, Jeffery, cut it out,” Sylvia said, composing herself.
The doors hissed open and T’Parief and Yanick stepped into the room.
“Yes, I heard you when you said I wasn’t listening to you,” T’Parief was saying.
“Then why didn’t you SAY SOMETHING??” Yanick snapped.
“I thought that by remaining silent, I would help you to see just how groundless your worries were,” T’Parief said indignantly.
“That is the STUPIDEST THING…Sylvia!”
Yanick’s expression suddenly changed. She ran up to the holographic woman and gave her a hug, “You’re OK!”
“I am, sweetie,” Sylvia said happily, “Are you?”
“Oh,” Yanick flushed red, suddenly realizing that her little squabble had had an audience, “We’re, um, that is…”
Jeffery and Stafford slowly started edging their way towards the door. Valtaic simply looked on with undisguised interest.
“Everybody has rough patches, right?” Yanick said finally, with a sort of hopefully smile.
“Sounds like somebody needs a vacation,” Sylvia declared.
Yanick’s face suddenly lit, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud.
“That’s perfect!” she said turning to T’Parief, “That’s just what we need! A couple of days with just the two of us! No distractions, no stress, just some quality time!”
T’Parief suddenly looked very, very, VERY uncomfortable.
“Uh, I sort of need T’Parief here,” Stafford said, trying to get his security chief out of his current fix.
“Oh, to do what? Walk around looking at locked doors all day? Besides, I thought you were gonna get Fifebee to do that now, since she can just pull a Casper,”
“No, Chris, this is something we have to do,” Yanick said sharply, getting right into Stafford’s face, “We need to straighten this out before it gets totally twisted! And if you had a woman instead of that overbearing slave-driver that uses you as a sex toy, maybe you’d understand that a bit better!”
She and Stafford stared at each other for a moment.
“Oh, FINE!” Stafford said, throwing his hands up in the air, “What do I care? We’re going to be stuck here for weeks anyway, so why not!”
“Good,” Yanick said, smiling. Behind her, T’Parief deflated.
“And on what sandy beach will you be frolicking?” Valtaic inquired.
“I don’t know,” Yanick said, “Someplace where there’s nobody else around,”
She took T’Parief by the hand and dragged him out the door.
“So,” Stafford turned to Sylvia,” How do you feel about liaisoning with the Matrians?”
“I think you really need to learn how to stand up to women, Chris,” Sylvia said, grinning, “And I don’t remember hearing about you having any kind of female slave-driver….
“I can stand up to women just fine!” Stafford snapped, indignantly, “And it’s nobody’s business but mine!”
The doors hissed open again as Queen Anselia marched through.
“THERE you are!” she declared, “Did you know that we had two births and a major disagreement on water rationing at the Matrian camp today? We are stressed!”
“‘We’ the royal you ‘we’, or ‘we’ all of the Matrians ‘we’?” Valtaic asked curiously.
“Both!” Anselia snapped. She turned her attention back to Stafford.
“Come,” she said, grabbing him by the arm, “We are libidinous!”
“But…I haven’t showered in over a week!” Stafford objected as he was pulled towards the door.
“We don’t care!” Anselia said.
“BUT NEIHER HAVE YOUUUUUUUUU!” Stafford whined as he was hauled into the corridor.
The doors hissed shut.
“I do hope she was talking about herself and not all of the Matrians that time,” Valtaic observed while Sylvia broke into giggles.
“C’mon,” Jeffery said, shaking his head in disgust, “We have work to do.”
As the aliens filed out, Craigan narrowed his eyes. He hadn’t gained much information, aside that there were apparently Matrian Women living here, along with these aliens, and that they appeared to be allies. Were these aliens helping the women fight off the Male Rebellion?
Or, had the rebellion succeeded, leaving these women as refugees with these aliens?
As for the leverage he needed, that blond girl would do nicely. Very nicely.