Author: Brendan Chris
Matrian Installation 317-B, AKA ‘Haven’:
“Medical team to the hanger!” chanted the voice of Ensign Frat Naketh, “Captain Stafford to the hanger! Agent Jural to the hanger!”
“This is Dr. Wowryk,” Wowryk replied, tapping the Matrian comm-badge she’d taken from one of the facility’s storage cabinets, “What’s happening?”
“We’ve got a Senousian scout inbound,” Frat reported, “They’ve got wounded!”
Agent Jural looked up from the old-fashioned map of Matronus he and Wowryk had been studying.
“That must be the Starfleet refugees,” he said.
“More than that, it’s a chance for me to do the job I actually signed up for,” Wowryk snapped. She jumped to her feet. “Let’s get to the tram!”
She charged towards the propped-open door, then stopped.
“Where on Earth did I put my med-kit?”
Stafford, Jural and Wowryk burst into Haven’s only above-ground hanger just as the Senousian scout was coming in for a landing. The ship was obviously damaged, with smoking scorch marks streaking along the port side. The port engine had clearly been hit and had been reduced to a smoking ruin. Underneath, her belly anti-grav units were making a sound similar to a very, very unhappy housecat.
The pilot was clearly having trouble controlling the ship. In the hanger control room, Frat was frantically pulling at a tangle of wires protruding from the wall, searching for the connection that would move the landing platforms out of the way. He’d evidently found it, as the two mobile landing platforms on that side of the hanger abruptly slid upwards, nearly sandwiching a trio of Matrian fighters between them.
“Clear the main deck!” Frat cried, “They’re having-“
There was an ear-splitting squeal as sparks flew from the damaged antigrav unit. The Senousian ship dropped like a stone, smashing into the hanger floor and skidding across the deck. Some of Haven’s safety systems must have been functioning in spite of the lockdown, as a repulsor beam abruptly shot out of the far wall, slowing the ship before it could strike a solid series of support struts.
The hatch popped open. Wowryk and Nurse Kerry were immediately there, eager to help out any wounded. Lieutenant Pye was the first one out the door. Seeing Stafford, he moved immediately his way.
“Lieutenant,” Stafford grinned, “It’s good to see you! I’m so glad you’re safely back!”
“Thanks, sir,” Pye said, “Everybody got off Silverado, except the HT. They went in to rescue Jall. But may I say, nice bit of waiting on the rescue!”
“Um…there were…issues here, too,” Stafford said.
“There’s gonna be more!” Pye said seriously, “We stirred up the hornet’s nest out there!” he tossed a thumb in the general direction of ‘out there’, “The Qu’Eh have scrambled all their attack fighters; they’re combing the planet! All the other ships you sent to Raleesh, y’know, the ones that came to get us, have gone to ground until things calm down a bit,”
“Good idea,” Stafford nodded, “We can’t risk leading them here!” He looked over at the damaged ship, “You didn’t lead them here, did you?”
“No, we bumped into a Qu’Eh fighter over the ocean. We shot them down, then came the rest of the way here at low altitude, random course changes,”
“But you need to shut everything down!” Pye insisted, “The Qu’Eh are gonna be scanning the planet like mad!”
“We haven’t really figured out how to turn anything on,” Stafford shrugged, but he tapped his comm-badge. “Stafford to Valtaic, spread the word: Shut everything down cold. The Qu’Eh are throwing a fit,”
“We haven’t figured out how to turn much on,” Valtaic pointed out, “Unless you count the replicators and the heating grill in the Matrian restaurant.”
“Just do it,” Stafford closed the channel. He looked at Pye. The guy looked like crap; he had shadows under his eyes, his face was haggard, his hair unkempt and it looked like he’d lost a few kilos eating Qu’Eh rations.
“We’ll get you guys setup with quarters,” Stafford said, “We’ve got Starfleet personnel setup in one of the island towers. Jeffery even got the turbo-lift working before he left. Too bad he can’t figure out the one in the Command Tower,”
“Which your officer just shut down anyway,” Jural pointed out helpfully.
Stafford started, as though he’d forgotten the Matrian was even there.
Pye moved off towards a group of waiting Silverado crewmen. Stafford and Jural watched as Wowryk and Kerry carefully unloaded one of the Matrian soldiers from the damaged scout. His arm had been caught in the discharge from a damaged console and was scorched and smoking, much like the scout. Wowryk, having applied painkillers before moving the patient, had started disinfecting the arm. Kerry was gathering burn spray and a wrapping, the whole while talking on her comm-badge to the temporary infirmary they’d setup in a nearby cargo bay. (The equipment they’d brought down from Silverado was limited, but was far better than nothing.) Behind them, Craigan was holding his head and wobbling slightly as he made his way out of the ship.
“So,” Wowryk was saying, “Even though you’re only injured and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll die, this is still an excellent opportunity for you to grow closer to your Lord and Creator. I’d be more than happy to provide you a copy of an excellent Earth book, the Christian Bible,”
Stafford smiled contentedly.
“It’s good to see her back in her old job,” he said, “Instead of plotting a rebellion,”
“It’s a side of her I haven’t seen,” Jural said curiously, watching as she finished the temporary dressing on the first patient and moved on to the second, this one a Starfleet crewman with a dislocated shoulder.
“OK, Crewman,” she said firmly, “I need you to made me angry,”
The man looked blankly at her.
“Trust me,” she said.
“Um…you Sickbay posters aren’t funny?” he said.
“They’re not supposed to be,” Wowryk crosser her arms, “Try again!”
“Uhhh…I believe that Jesus had brothers and sisters?”
“Closer,” Wowryk said, her lips tightening, “But I need to be really, really mad,”
“Uh…you’ve got great tits, and I’d just love to reach out and-“
With a growl, Wowryk grabbed the man, slammed him against the scout and strategically slammed her entire weight against one particular spot. There was a pop and a brief screech of pain as the crewman’s shoulder popped neatly back into place.
“Excellent,” Wowryk said, brushing her hands together, “And who’s next?”
“I haven’t seen her in such a good mood in weeks!” Stafford grinned.
“Me neither,” Jural marvelled.
“Waitaminute,” Stafford’s grin vanished, “PYE! You said everybody got off Silverado, right?”
“Right,” Pye said, just on his way out of the hanger.
“Which ship is Yanick on?”
Raleesh Transporter Central, Two Hours Prior:
A Matrian technician was running her hands over the blue and yellow controls on the master transporter panel of Raleesh’s primary transporter terminal. An empty city, Raleesh had been abandoned by the Matrians after their re-awakening. The Council of Governors had wanted to consolidate their population temporarily until some of the kinks were worked out of their new civilization, and had planned to re-populate Raleesh within the next five years. Of course, that was before the Qu’Eh invasion.
In any event, the empty city had been largely ignored by the Qu’Eh, making it perfect for the rescue team’s needs. Even as the author embarked on this long and largely pointless round of exposition, Silverado crewmen were materializing on three of the many transporter stages that surrounded the master panel.
“Those are the last crewmembers off the ship,” Lieutenant Kennurdy said, checking his crewman-count, “Nobody left but-“
The operator, getting another set of signals from the transporter enhancers setup in Silverado’s shuttlebay, activated the beams again.
“The rescue team,” Kennurdy finished as the Hazardous Team, plus Yanick, Jeffery and T’Parief, materialized on one of the empty stages.
“Turn this baby right around!” Stern called pleasantly, “One trip to the Soulless Bastard Express, please!”
“Wait!” T’Parief said firmly. He turned to Yanick, “Return to the installation. You will be safer there,”
Yanick put her hands on her hips and made a face.
“Oh, what, you think I need to be protected?” she said, “I’m still a Starfleet officer-type person! I’m going with you guys!”
“Uh, and we’re still going to need a good pilot for our daring escape,” Simmons tried to point out. T’Parief’s tail whipped out, slapping Simmons across his forearm and drawing a yelp of pain.
That done, he still had to admit that he had no reason for wanting her to return to Haven other than that he wanted her tucked safely away, where nothing could happen to her. Of course, even he knew better than to say that!
“You’re always so concerned about the mission?” Yanick was asking, “Well, maybe if I show you that I can be woman of action sometimes too, you’ll stop treating me like a piece of fragile china!”
T’Parief was about to deliver a retort when the realization suddenly hit: That was exactly the kind of attitude he wanted in a mate. That daring, that stubbornness, that need to go out and do something useful. Sure, he hated Jall, and saw this rescue mission as something that had to be done ‘just because’. But to Yanick, Jall was a close, special friend. And what was more honourable than risking your life to save a shipmate?
“If any Qu’Eh so much as lay a finger on you, I will paint the walls with his blood,” he purred.
“Yuck,” Rengs, Simmons and Marsden muttered.
Kreklor, on the other hand, had started making notes on his tricorder.
“I will have to remember to use that line if I’m ever going into battle with my mate,” the Klingon muttered to himself.
Qu’Eh flagship, orbiting Matria Prime:
There was a shimmer of multicoloured transporter sparks as the rescue team materialized aboard the Qu’Eh flagship.
“AAAATTTAAAACCCCKKKKK!!!!” Stern screamed, firing his phaser rifle. The other team members let loose their own war cries and weapons barrages. One beam bounced off a reflective surface, striking Marsden and sending the hostage negotiator/computer expert tumbling to the floor.
“STOP SHOOTING!” T’Parief roared, “THERE IS NOBODY HERE!”
Stern released the trigger of his phaser rifle, then looked around the room. They’d materialized in an empty dining hall. Some sort of brown, brackish-smelling drink was now spilling out of a ruptured drink dispenser and several walls now bore small discolorations from stun blasts.
“Jeez, now everybody’s going to know we’re here,” Yanick said. Her hands were clamped over her ears, her hand phaser pointed straight up at the ceiling.
“Trish, FIRE!” T’Parief snapped.
By reflex, Yanick squeezed the trigger, sending a beam of deadly energy straight up and into a sensor node directly above her. The node sparked, disabled. She gave a little yelp, slamming her eyes shut.
Yanick slowly opened one eye, then looked up. She opened the other, shook herself out and lowered her hands from her ears.
“See?” she giggled, “I’m already useful!”
“Let’s keep moving,” Stern suggested, “They may have security on the way already!”
“Did anybody to think to ask the Qu’Eh where they keep their brigs?” Simmons asked.
“According to Wowryk, they were held somewhere on the upper decks,” Rengs said, tapping at his tricorder, “But our plan is just to look for Trill life-signs.” The tricorder beeped. “And there they are. Eight levels up, forward section.”
“Mr. Jall, so good to see you,” a simpering Qu’Eh underling gushed, “We’ve been looking forward to having you on our team for weeks now! I’m Associate Clart”
“Goody,” Jall muttered.
Over the course of the day he’d been forced to fill out reams of forms, mostly legal-type stuff disavowing the Qu’Eh of any responsibility for injuries he might sustain over the course of his torture. This had not exactly pleased him.
“I’m not signing that,” he’d flatly refused after reading a document that informed him that he may, over the course of his ‘persuasive professional development session’, be exposed to heat and/or open flame and that the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority was not responsible for any burns, blisters or similar heat-related injuries.
“Mr. Jall, this is a standard document,” Supervisor Neum had said patiently, “Everybody who goes through these tort…um…professional development sessions signs them.”
“But if I’m exposed to heat and get burnt, it WILL be your fault!” Jall had snapped.
“Oh my, no,” Neum had shaken her head.
“And how do you figure that?”
“If you’d done your job, this wouldn’t be happening,” Neum had said, “Therefore, this is all your fault,”
“It’s my fault that the Qu’Eh might burn, cut,” he’d started shuffling through the forms, “Drown, electrocute, exsanguinate, dehydrate, or see me devoured by wild frozzits?”
“Precisely,” Neum had nodded.
“I refuse to sign it,” he’d repeated firmly. Neum had gestured to the guard, who’d immediately pointed the business end of his weapon to Jall’s temple.
“Is that thing even real?” he’d demanded.
The guard had eased the weapon to the right, fired a shot against the wall, then returned to pressing it against Jall’s temple.
“This’ll never hold up in a court of law,” he’d grumbled, signing the document.
Now he was finally being led into what was presumable the room where, depending on the Qu’Eh, he’d either suffer horribly or die.
“I have all the usual documentation for this employee,” Neum said to the other Qu’Eh, handing over a very heavy briefcase, “He’s very stubborn,”
“Thank you, Supervisor,” Clart said, “Your quality assessment for this case will no doubt be positive,”
“Ohh, you charmer!” Neum giggled, her hands fluttering for a moment.
“Now, Mr…” Clart checked his clipboard, despite having already said Jall’s name, “Jall. We have something special planned for you!”
“Well, my mommy always said I was a special boy,” Jall quipped.
“Normally, an employee that caused such a delay in his persuasive development processing would never have been tolerated,” Clart went on, “But in your case, it gave us just the time we needed to perfect a little something we’ve been working on. And thanks to a very recent…development, there’s no time to lose!”
He turned and walked briskly through a door off to one side of the torture reception/processing area. Jall’s guards suggested he follow, mainly by prodding him in the kidneys with their weapons.
They passed three different ‘work areas’, each one disturbingly similar to the main treatment area in a standard Starfleet sickbay. Each had a bio-bed in the center with an array of electronic devices arrayed above them and several carts of equipment nearby. Unlike a Starfleet sickbay, these beds were tilted at about fourty-five degrees and the devices and equipment didn’t exactly resemble medical equipment. All three areas were empty, luckily.
The fourth area held a single Matrian female, but it was the fifth that had drawn Jall’s attention. It held a collection of unrecognizable Qu’Eh technology, most of it looking very jury-rigged. Cabled and conduits branched between components in a fashion that strongly resembled the results of Jall’s one and only attempt to learn knitting. What disturbed him however was that there appeared to be several pieces of Matrian technology added in to the mix, technology that looked like it had been damaged.
“Where is Queen Anselia hiding?” a Qu’Eh interrogator demanded, leaning over the Matrian prisoner.
“I don’t know,” the woman said firmly.
“What does the word ‘Haven’ mean to you?” the interrogator demanded.
“Nothing. I think it might be a kind of ice cream the Starfleeters eat.”
The interrogator looked over to Clart, who nodded. He adjusted a couple of controls on a makeshift panel next to the prisoner, then slipped some kind of emitter device over her head. The conglomeration of equipment in the next bay began to pulse and hum.
“Where is Queen Anselia hiding?” the interrogator demanded again.
“I…I…I…” the Matrian’s eyes had grown wide, but didn’t appear to be looking at anything. Her body was relaxing, her mouth trembled slightly.
“Tell me,” the interrogator said insistently, “Obey me. I am your master, it is your place to serve,”
“Stop it!” Jall demanded.
“Why?” Clart asked, “The Matrians used this technology against their own people for almost a century. Is two minutes really that unbearable?”
“You found a Matrian Spatial-Interphase-Device,” Jall realized. He looked over at the humming contraption, “Or at least pieces of one,”
“It’s sort of a work in progress,” Clart admitted while the interrogator continued asking insistent questions, “And there are a lot of side effects the Matrian versions never caused that we haven’t quite figured out. Nausea, vomiting or nosebleeds most of the time. But we’ve driving at least one prisoner quite mad, and killed another. I’m afraid that’s going to hurt my quality score,”
“You’re a monster,” Jall said coldly.
“Of course I am,” Clart looked surprised, “Why wouldn’t I be? That’s what they pay me for!”
“What is Haven?” the interrogator demanded again.
“Don’t…know…” the prisoner’s voice was growing more and more listless.
“That’s enough,” Clart said suddenly, “She knows nothing. This one,” he nodded at Jall, “Will be able to tell us more,”
“What makes you say that?” Jall asked, wondering just why it was always him getting strapped down to the torture table, “You already tricked me into giving you info on the Federation fleet, what else can I tell you?”
“You can tell us the current location of Dr. Wowryk,” Clart replied immediately.
“Uh, how would I know that? I just fired her out in an escape pod,”
“We were closing in on her, thanks to information we managed to obtain from Matrian prisoners,” Clart explained, “Then she called for extraction to a place called ‘Haven’ and promptly vanished.”
“We’re quite sure that wherever Haven is, Queen Anselia, King Hektor and Minister Stafford are likely there as well,”
This could be bad.
“And we’re certain you know where it is,” Clart finished.
Site Director Laurette, current leader of the Matrian Outsourced Component of the Qu’Eh Corporate Assessment Authority had known something was up the moment two of P’tarek’s lackeys had marched into her office in the Matrian government building and insisted that her presence was ‘requested’ aboard P’tarek’s flagship. She’d been beamed up rather then sent by shuttle, which struck her as odd. P’tarek and the other Qu’Eh had seemed to greatly prefer the use of shuttles, probably because it made for a more dramatic arrival complete with greeting parties. Or maybe because they gave opportunities to survey their destination prior to arrival. Hell, she didn’t know. But the fact that P’tarek had had her beamed up to his ship was unusual. She’d been led through a series of bland corridors until she came to P’tarek’s horribly decorated office. P’tarek was speaking to somebody over subspace when she arrived.
“Completely thrilled that you’ve agreed, Shareholder,” P’tarek was saying, “Yes, I suspected once you saw the Matrian fertility figures that the Board would agree…ahh, and here is Site Director Laurette now!”
Laurette turned, noticing a large viewscreen set into one of the strangely angled walls. An older Qu’Eh was seated behind a transparent desk, his implant not only larger than normal but also connected to a heavy wall socket by an honest-to-God cable.
“Site Director Laurette, finest quality!” the man said, “I’m Shareholder Thoms. Chairman P’tarek was telling me just the other day that the spass-fish population in the Matronus River appears to have stabilized?”
A few weeks ago Laurette would have been confused and annoyed by the seemingly random change in subject, but a mandatory ‘Friendly Banter’ workshop had taught her that it was Qu’Eh culture to exchange random pleasantries.
“Yes, Shareholder,” Laurette said politely, “And the Chairman was just saying yesterday that the rains are due in his home region this week,”
“Hmm, her FB isn’t the best, but I am impressed,” Thoms said to P’tarek, “I’ve certainly seen worse from the newly employed. In any event, Site Director, it gives me great pleasure to pass along some good news!”
“You’re all leaving and letting us run our own civilization?” Laurette asked dryly.
“Don’t be absurd,” Thoms shook his head, reaching for a beverage, “No, the Board has approved the allocation of additional resources to the Matrian Sector!”
“Additional…resources?” Laurette’s mouth went dry.
“Yes. In fact, a fleet of three new cruisers and their escorts will be arriving at Matria Prime within hours, and another fourty thousand troops will be arriving within the next few days.”
“Well, the ships were approved several days ago and sent along. The troops were approved yesterday, after we received word that your people had been rated above average in fertility! This indicates a higher likelihood that the Matrian people will be long-term active employees in the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority!”
“That’s…great,” Laurette said, unenthusiastically.
“Now, you and the Chairman can go down to your quaint little council and announce the news. But there is one little drawback. The Chairman will explain, as I have a meeting. But it was a pleasure meeting you. Finest quality to you both.”
“Finest quality,” P’tarek said, bowing slightly towards the screen as the image faded.
“A drawback?” Laurette demanded.
“There was an incident less than an hour ago,” P’tarek said, his pleasant demeanour gone, “The rebels have gone too far, and I’m afraid we’re going to have to punish your people because of it,”
“What happened,” Laurette demanded.
“Nothing you need to worry about,” P’tarek snapped, “But now we’re going to destroy Raleesh.”
Laurette was thrown off-guard.
“What? Why? It’s empty, there’s nothing there!”
“There’s an entire city, along with all the tools and technologies one might expect,” P’tarek said, “Frankly, it was erroneous of us to ignore it as long as we did. Believe me, the Vice-President that made that decision will be suffering horribly during his next performance review!”
“What happened?” Laurette demanded again.
“A group of rebels used Raleesh as a base during an…operation,” P’tarek said, his mouth tight, “Normally, this would be no more disturbing than any other rebel activity. But in this case, it’s clear that we cannot allow them access to the city, and guarding an empty city is just a waste of our resources. So it will be a…demonstration…instead.”
“You can’t just inform me that you’re going to destroy an entire city, and then refuse to tell me why!” Laurette snapped.
“But I will. Now come, let’s go have a little chat with your council, then we can go blow up a city! Won’t that be fun?”
“Quiet, people,” Stern said softly, watching his tricorder as a squad of Qu’Eh security guards moved quickly through the corridor next to their maintenance tube, “Search team,”
The Qu’Eh were clearly aware that somebody had boarded their ship, as there were security teams combing the ship. But there had been no alarms, no flashing lights and no outward sign that anything was amiss. It had confused Stern for a moment, until he remembered that the Qu’Eh were corporate-types, and the last thing any corporation would do was admit that anything was wrong.
“Urp!” Yanick put a hand to her mouth, “Excuse me!”
“Ah warned ye people to eat before we left the runabout!” Jeffery hissed.
“I don’t think it was my stomach,” Yanick said. He cheer had faded a little; she was starting to look worried as she massaged her abdomen.
“Can you hold out?” Stern asked.
Yanick nodded. T’Parief let out a hiss-rattle.
Rengs was tapping again at his tricorder while Simmons slapped lightly at Marsden’s face, trying to revive the man from the stun-blast he’d taken.
“Jall’s stopped moving,” Rengs said, “Two more levels up.” He frowned.
“What?” T’Parief demanded.
“Well, there’s only two other non Qu-Eh life signs,” he said, “Oops, make that one. The other just beamed off the ship,”
“Wowryk said that when they were captured, they had hundreds of prisoners aboard,” Stern cut in, “You don’t think they killed them all, do you?”
“They were probably sent to repair their ships, as our people were,” T’Parief said quietly, “It is of no concern,”
“Ohhh, but it is!” Simmons said, fondling one of the plasma grenades on his belt, “It means that after we grab Jall, we can leave this little present in a strategic spot…say, right next to their warp core?”
T’Parief’s eyes widened like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Here is what we will do,” he said, gesturing for them to gather ‘round.
Jall was starting to feel strange.
“What is Haven?” the interrogator demanded.
“What’s your name, anyway?” Jall asked, ignoring the question.
“I am Interviewer Staie,” the Matrian replied.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Jall replied.
“Why, thank you.”
“I was actually just lying to be polite,” Jall added.
Staie tapped a button, sending a jolt of electricity through Jall’s left leg.
“Where is Dr. Wowryk?”
“Not sure, but wherever she is, she’s probably at church,” Jall said.
“Where would Queen Anselia be hiding?”
“Don’t know, haven’t seen her in over a month,” Jall replied immediately, “By the way, she’s got a great ass, don’t you think?”
“Where is Minister Stafford hiding?”
“Probably between Queen Anselia’s legs,” Jall quipped pleasantly.
Staie looked over to Clart, who nodded. Staie tapped a couple of commands into the panel next to the bed, then slowly turned a knob. The device, which until then had barely been humming, started to pulse.
Jall remembered his previous exposures to M-SIDs the way he remembered strange or particularly interesting dreams: Somewhat there, but fairly patchy. But what he remembered clearly was that according to all reports, the Silverado crew had successfully disabled the personality-altering functions of the M-SID they’d used to infiltrate the Matrian Dreamland. How much those functions had affected them during their first exposure to one of the devices a good four years ago still wasn’t clear. But what was clear was that he, San Jall, had never been exposed to the full mind-twisting power of the device.
His body started to ease as a feeling of intense relaxation came over him. He knew intellectually that this was the device preparing his brain to exchange signals with a highly complex cortical induction field, and that in addition to altering personalities the M-SIDs served as links to the vast artificial reality the Matrian females had ruled for a century. Of course, this wasn’t an M-SID he was hooked up to, it was a cobbled together Qu’Eh device that was supposed to make him more…agreeable to them. There was no artificial reality, no cortical induction field, and a good chance that this much brain-tampering was just going to make him soil himself.
“I hate it when people fool around with technology they don’t understand,” Jall said dreamily.
“You want to tell us about Haven,” Staie said, ignoring the comment, “What is it? Where is it? It really is something we should know about.”
What was Haven anyway, Jall wondered. He’d never heard the name before, not in connection with the Matrians. But whatever it was, the Matrians were pretty sure that Stafford and Anselia were there. And he knew perfectly well where they were: the underground Matrian installation under the desert.”
“Why would they name it Haven?” Jall murmured aloud, “That’s a stupid name!”
Staie and Clart exchange ecstatic looks.
“He DOES know!” Clart exclaimed, “Ohhh, my quality score is going to go through the roof!”
“Why would they name it Haven?” Staie repeated back to Jall, a voice recorder at hand.
Jall’s mind was swimming. He couldn’t tell them where Haven was…he couldn’t tell them where Haven was…he couldn’t tell them where Haven was. But that’s not what the Qu’Eh, who really wasn’t a bad sort after all was he, was asking.
“They’re hiding there,” Jall said, “It was a haven for the Matrian government, and for most of our crew.”
“Where is it?”
Jall shook his head.
“What is it?”
“We don’t know,” he replied dreamily, “Military installation? Bunker? Long-term shelter? But it’s hundreds of years old…the Matrians had no idea it was even there!”
“That’s why none of the rebels knew about it!” Clart said excitedly.
“We’ve got to notify the Chairman!” Staie said.
Clart looked at his chrono.
“He’s down on the planet, addressing the government,” he shook his head, “But get a sensor feed in here! If we can pinpoint this bunker, we’ll have sufficient justification for a Type-1 Dramatic Interruption!”
“Tell us more about this bunker,” Staie insisted, adjusting the dial again.
“By the Prophets,” Rengs muttered, tapping his tricorder angrily.
“Some kind of…energy readings,” Rengs said, “Right from Jall’s location. Nothing I’ve see before!”
“Let me see,” Jeffery insisted. He looked at the tricorder screen. “Uh-oh,”
“What?” T’Parief insisted.
“Look,” he turned the tricorder so the reptile could see it.
“And that means what?” T’Parief said, his voice carrying a hint of danger.
“It’s a lot like the field put out by those Matrian dream-machine thingies,”
“We encountered those before you joined the crew,” Stern said to Rengs.
“But we knew the Qu’Eh were searching for one,” Marsden added, still woozy from the stun blast, “We saw them in the cavern under Matronus,”
“Looks like they had some luck after all,” Jeffery said.
“We should probably blow that up too then, right?” Simmons asked.
“Yes, yes we definitely should. And quickly, who knows what Jall might be telling them!”
“Evendra Desert,” Clart was muttering, tapping at a sensor panel one of his subordinates had brought in, “I can’t find anything there, just the abandoned ruin of a city and a lot of wasteland!”
“Energy…readings…” Jall’s head was starting to loll, “That’s how we found….”
Clart shook his head, “There’s nothing there! The topography is just flat sand for thousands of square kilometres!”
“Where specifically did you find this bunker?” Staie demanded.
“In the ruins, or near them?”
“I still can’t find anything!” Clart exclaimed, starting to sound a tad hysterical.
Staie reached for the adjustment knob again.
“And don’t touch that! If his brains melt, he won’t be able to tell us anything!”
“I’m positive the tricorder said there was supposed to be a left turn here,” Rengs muttered angrily, contemplating the maintenance shaft dead-end he found himself facing.
“I keep telling you people,” Stern said, “Tricorders can’t do everything!”
“How far are we from Jall, anyway?” Marsden asked.
“Close enough to hear the screams,” Simmons said helpfully. The rest of the HT ignored him, but T’Parief started listening very, very carefully. Unfortunately (for him, anyway) Jall apparently wasn’t being interrogated with scream-invoking methods.
“Two more groups of life-signs,” Rengs said, “Qu’Eh security is closing in on us!”
“Simmons, time to do your thing,” Stern ordered, gesturing for the rest of them to move back.
“Heeheeheeheeheehee!” Simmons giggled, rummaging around in his pack for an explosive charge, “Hmmm…Sandy, or Susan? Definitely Susan!”
“He names his bombs?” Yanick whispered to T’Parief.
“Names, converses with and occasionally dresses up,” T’Parief muttered back, “He is very…passionate…about his work.”
“HEEHEEHEEHEEHEE!!!” Simmons giggles were bordering on hysterics as he quickly yet lovingly set the detonator control and sprinted back around the nearest corner. He gave Stern a look that could only be described as ‘eager puppy’. Smiling and shaking his head, Stern gave him the go-ahead.
“GOOOD SAVE OOUR GRAAACIOUS QUEEN!” Simmons sang out at the top of his lungs, then slammed his hand down on the detonator.
The entire section of the shaft seemed to jump as the dead-end became an open passageway. Jeffery was looking at Simmons with a look of complete and utter confusion. He turned to T’Parief.
“We don’t know why he sings that, either,” T’Parief said before Jeffery could even ask.
“Nothing, nothing, NOTHING!” Clart was now frantic, “I’m scanning all around these ruins! All I can find is sand, sand and more sand!”
“Is Haven north of the city, or south?” Staie asked Jall, trying to keep his voice calm and soothing, “If I wanted to walk there on a clear, sunny day, how would I know the way?”
“Muuugggnnnnn….” Jall slurred.
“Turn it off!” Thoms said, “We need his mind intact!”
Staie was about to turn the dial down when could have sworn he hear…singing? Suddenly the entire jurry-rigged mind-control contraption exploded outward from the wall, showering Jall and the two Qu’Eh with debris.
“Atta girl, Betty!” a human in Matrian fatigues shouted, jumping through the hole and firing his phaser in all directions.
“I thought that one was Sandy!” another human shouted.
“Nope, I’m saving Sandy for the big finish!”
“Three explosions in one day,” a third human said, this one with a thick accent, “No wonder ye never let him out to play!”
“He’s kinda hard to clean up after,” the second human admitted.
Staie and Clart took one look at the invaders, then turned to run. Rengs and Stern gunned them down with stun blasts before they’d even taken two steps. Marsden was at Jall’s side immediately, cutting through the restraint straps and helping the groggy officer to his feet. Dar’ugal rushed over to the unconscious Matrian prisoner and did the same.
“He’s pretty out of it,” Marsden reported, “Whatever they were doing, it’s messed him up a bit!”
“Well, he’s not oozing entrails or anything, so I assume we can move him?” Stern asked. Jeffery made a face, while T’Parief just licked his lips. Yanick smacked him upside the head.
“Ah can’t contact Raleesh Transporter Central,” Jeffery reported, fiddling with his comm-badge.
“Doesn’t matter,” Rengs said, glancing at his tricorder, “The Qu’Eh have their shields up anyway. But I’m pretty sure there’s a shuttlebay eight decks down from here!”
They’d made it down two decks before the ambush hit. One moment they were sneaking down another maintenance shaft, the next there were Qu’Eh to the front and to the rear. Dar’ugal dropped the Matrian woman and ducked behind a support, firing stun blasts into the enemy security team. Kreklor and Rengs took the rear positions, sending enough shots towards the Qu’Eh team to keep them from advancing.
“Stern,” T’Parief shouted, “Our priority is now escape. Lethal response is authorized,”
“‘bout f**king time,” Stern muttered, “Simmons! Got any Scuttling Sally’s in there?”
“Is a Klingon crawling with parasites?” Simmons asked, reaching into his satchel. Keklor, without missing a beat in his covering fire, jammed the butt of his phaser rifle into Simmons’ ribs, just hard enough to hurt.
“I think you’ll like this one,” Stern shouted to Jeffery over the din of weapons fire, “A little something Simmons and Keklor worked out!”
Simmons had dropped what looked like a plasma grenade, right on the floor where the rescue team was taking cover.
“BUGGER!” Jeffery squeaked, positive he was about to be blown to smithereens. Instead, the grenade appeared to sprout six long, slender legs. It took off towards the front Qu’Eh team at high speed, giving off strange electronic chirps as it dodged from side to side.
“OOOOHHHH SAY CAAN YOU SEEEEEE!!!!” Simmons belted out, just before the grenade exploded, sending Qu’Eh bits showering all over the tunnel.
Stern picked up the Matrian woman, Dar’ugal slung Jall over one shoulder and they quickly sprinted down the tunnel.
“That’s disgusting,” Yanick remarked as they passed the charred remains of the Qu’Eh. Her stomach twisted again, gurgling and sending another throng of nausea through her. Her uniform tunic, already two sizes bigger than she normally wore, was getting tight again. Whatever was going on there, it was getting worse. And quickly. And it couldn’t be happening at a worse time.
T’Parief was in full attack mode. The Hazardous Team was now two decks above the supposed shuttlebay, and they’d had to dispatch three more Qu’Eh security teams. There were still no alarms sounding, no alert lights flashing, and no outward indication that anything was at all the matter on the Qu’Eh ship.
They’d been chased out of the maintenance tubes at some point, and were now racing down the main corridor of the ship, crashing over plastic plants and squinting in the bright white lighting. Up ahead, Stern had forced open a door labelled ‘Data Tabulation, then abruptly stopped.
“I think we found the recreation deck,” he said, his jaw dropping.
They crowded through the door, finding themselves on a sort of promenade overlooking a wide, open space that seemed to be 1/3 restaurant and 2/3 casino. In every aisle, near every table and parked next to every exit were carts loaded with padds. Hundreds, even thousands of the tablet-like devices were being picked up, dropped off and even distributed. Down on the main floor off to their left, a Qu’Eh couple was dining while they looked over several padds, laughing lightly as they did so. In the casino, patrons were frantically copying data from the padds into central computer consoles, then apparently winning or loosing based on the results.
“Those padds…Rengs trailed off.
“It’s the damned quality surveys they’ve been forcing everybody to fill out!” Stern cried. “Look, those two! They’re reading over the Transit Quality reports from Matronus!”
“And the gaming tables!” Rengs pointed, “They’ve got the Quality of Sex results for most of the planet! That guy just won 40,000…somethings…betting that the average rating would be between 3.45 and 3.47!”
“This is what the Qu’Eh do in their spare time?”Simmons asked incredulously, “No wonder they’re so uptight!”
“This location is too public,” T’Parief declared flatly, not seeming particularly interested, “However, it can be used to our advantage,”
“Let’s wreck up the place?” Stern asked hopefully.
With one smooth motion they reversed their phasers and slammed the butts into the glass panel separating the promenade from the gaming and dining floor. Unfortunately, the panel must not have been glass after all, as the phasers simply struck with a solid THUNK. Nobody on the floor even seemed to notice.
“Well, that’s a little embarrassing,” Stern shrugged.
“Simmons?” T’Parief gestured towards the panel.
“We’re just going to take the stairs,” Yanick spoke up, one hand on her stomach. She, Dar’ugal and Kreklor, now carrying the Matrian and Jall, opened the glass door leading to a neat stairway.
“Spoil-sports!” Stern called after her.
“OHHH, FLOWER OF SCOTTLAAAAND!”
Once the second the explosion and the shower of transparent fragments had cleared, T’Parief, Stern, Rengs, Simmons and Marsden leapt through the empty window and down to the main floor. Off-duty Qu’Eh were now screaming and running around frantically, though most were taking the time to grab as many completed quality forms as they could on their way out. Stern fired at one of the gambling machines, sending it up in smoke as a whole stack of Quality of Death and/or Maiming forms slid to the floor.
“If Ah didn’t know better,” Jeffery shouted over the din to T’Parief, “Ah’d say ye buggers are enjoying this!”
“This is just weeks of pent-up frustration being purged,” T’Parief admitted.
“T’PARIEF!” Kreklor was shouting, “COME!”
T’Parief spun immediately towards the Klingon. At first, he didn’t understand why he was being called, there didn’t seem to be any immediate threat. Then he saw Yanick crumpled on the deck. He was at her side in an instant.
“She passed out,” Kreklor reported, “I suppose we will have to carry her,”
“It’s time to go,” T’Parief said firmly, gingerly picking Yanick up and noticing the abnormal (and considerably larger) swelling in her abdomen.
“STERN!” he shouted, “TO THE SHUTTLEBAY!”
“AWWWW!” Stern shouted back, “Can’t we blow up one more-“
Up in the interrogation section, Clart slowly regained consciousness. His head was pounding and he felt like he’d been beaten with a full-scale audit. The Starfleet officer was gone, the attacking humans and assorted aliens were gone, their carefully constructed Matrian/Qu’Eh hybrid Dream Machine was a smoking ruin and…
And the sensor panel was beeping.
Looking at the display, Clart saw that at some point in the past half hour, the sensors had picked up a small energy fluctuation. Nothing serious, in fact it could have been interference from the planets ionosphere or from weather on the surface. Odds are, if the sensors hadn’t been directed at the exact same region for such an extended period, it would have gone completely unnoticed. As it was, Clart wasn’t in the most optimistic of moods and almost ignored the tiny fluctuation.
Then he noticed that the position of the energy reading happened to correspond to a very large mound, almost a mountain, of sand about fifty kilometers from the ruins at the desert’s edge.
Not only was that sand mound huge, easily huge enough to cover a secret Matrian installation, it was also close to being perfectly round. Unnaturally so.
“I found it!” he muttered.
They crossed the final two decks quickly. Between the explosions in the maintenance tube, the chaos in their recreation level and the fact that the corporate-type Qu’Eh just weren’t on the same level as a half-crazed Starfleet assault team, resistance on the ship had trickled down to a minimum. They surged through a heavy double door and into a two-level hanger. Nearly half a dozen greenish Qu’Eh runabouts were parked on the deck, one of which had its hatch gaping open.
“This will work for now,” T’Parief said, trying not to hit Yanick’s head against the hatch on the way in, “We can rendezvous with the rebels on the planet and get transport back to Haven.”
“Sounds good,” Jeffery agreed.
Yanick was stirring, her eyes fluttering open.
“Ye fainted,” Jeffery said helpfully.
“Can anybody read Qu’Eh?” Rengs was calling from the cockpit, “This is all gibberish to me!”
“I should be piloting,” Yanick grumbled.
“Not in your condition,” T’Parief said flatly.
“About that, by the way?” Jeffery inquired.
“I don’t know!” Yanick said, sounding very scared, “The doctor said it would pass in a while, but it keeps getting worse! I don’t know what’s happening!”
“We’ve got to get her to Noel,” Jeffery said.
“Yes, we do.” T’Parief agreed.
The runabout jolted, moving in the general direction of the egress doors but spinning on an axis.
“No, THIS one goes here, THAT one goes there!” somebody snapped from the cockpit.
“I’ve got the transporter figured out!” Simmons called, “Permission to leave our parting gift?”
“Quickly!” Stern called back from the cockpit, “Before we pass out of their shield perimeter!”
Simmons gave his last plasma grenade a loving stroke as he placed it on the transporter pad and pulled the pin.
“Express trip right to the Qu’Eh warp core!” he said happily. He took a deep breath. “OHHHHH CAAAAANADAAAAA!”
Matria Prime, Council Chamber:
“The floor recognizes Chairman P’tarek of the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority,” the replacement Speaker of the Matrian Council of Governors said blandly, with little enthusiasm. Most of the Matrian councillors had fled when the Qu’Eh had invaded, leaving a group of deputies and hastily elected replacements to reform the council. Of course, since this council was little more than a puppet government under the Qu’Eh, the people didn’t pay a great deal of attention to it anyway.
Chairman P’tarek, complete with a flowing cape and his medallion of office (depicting an ancient call-center headset) strode out onto the speaking floor of the chamber. The twin thrones reserved for the King and Queen of Matria had been removed and replaced with two pillars crowned with the symbol of the Qu’Eh. Mistress Laurette was seated front and center, facing the podium and surrounded by her cabinet. Laurette, along with the rest of the Matrians were completely unaware of the chaos currently breaking out aboard P’tarek’s ship, and P’tarek had no intention of doing anything other than pretending that it was ‘business as usual’.
“People of Matria Prime,” he said loudly, “We the Qu’Eh came to you with a dream: A dream of productivity, efficiency, and above all, quality. We have stretched out the hand of employment to you, offering job security and a voice in the company!”
“Is this guy for real?” one of Laurette’s ministers muttered, “They conquered and enslaved us!”
“It’s called ‘PR’,” Laurette muttered back, furious. How could P’tarek possibly expect to pass himself off as a concerned benefactor when all of Matria knew his race was using them all to further their own agenda?
“Yet despite our kind offers and our hard work, you’ve seen fit to aid those that would slap away the hand we’ve outstretched in kindness, that would spit upon the face of those who have come to your aid and to discard the valued stock options we have offered your people. Just hours ago, Matrian rebels operated out of the city of Raleesh in an attack against the Qu’Eh. An attack that, I might add, was unprovoked and unsuccessful.”
He nodded at one of his aids.
“Behold, your corrective action measures,” P’tarek said.
The screen behind him came to life, showing an aerial view of Raleesh. A Qu’Eh disrupter flashed across the screen, striking an apartment building and vaporizing a good sized chunk. Two more blasts flew down from orbit, destroying a small commercial building and taking another chuck out of the apartment building. This time, the building sighed, then collapsed into a pile of rubble.
P’tarek’s flagship continued firing, demolishing buildings, incinerating parks and leaving blackened craters in the streets.
P’tarek’s aid suddenly sat straight up in his seat.
“Chairman,” he said aloud, “Emergency transmission from the flagship!”
P’tarek’s eyes flashed. If this was about the rebels running around his ship, heads would roll! Class-1 Dramatic Interruptions were only to be used in the event of startling and vital information. The death of a few rebels or Starfleeters was neither. And he was quite confident they would indeed be dead soon. Worst case scenario, they’d just open a few decks to space and asphyxiate the annoyance.
“Mr. Chairman! Finest quality!” This is Associate Clart with Information Extraction,”
P’tarek’s annoyance vanished. This could be good, very good.
“Finest quality, Associate,” P’tarek replied, “What do you have to report.”
“We’ve found Haven, Mr. Chairman! It’s located at-“
The signal abruptly cut out.
P’tarek spun towards his aide.
“Get him BACK!” he snapped.
“Chairman, I can’t contact the flagship!” the aide said frantically.
P’tarek looked up at the screen, just in time to see it switch from a view of the smoking city to an orbital view of an explosion. An explosion in the middle of the Qu’Eh fleet. In fact, P’tarek was very sure that the explosion was centered exactly where his flagship used to be.
P’tarek’s jaw worked for several moments, then he spun and walked out of the chamber.
“P’tarek to all ships,” he spoke angrily, the moment he was able, “Open fire. I want that city obliterated.”
“WHAAA-HOOOO!!!!!” Simmons cried from the transporter padd as the Qu’Eh runabout rocked, tossing them around as the shockwave from the exploding ship struck them, making their tiny vessel thrum like a struck gong.
“Engines out!” Rengs called from the cockpit, “Sensors are down! I’m losing control!”
In the window, Matria Prime was growing larger and larger as the ship hurtled towards the planet. In mere moments, they’d be hitting the atmosphere.
“Use thrusters! Get us under control!” Jeffery shouted.
“Sure, the moment somebody figures out what ‘manoeuvring thrusters’ looks like when it’s written in Qu’Eh!” Rengs shouted back.
“Everybody better brace themselves,” Stern shouted as the runabout reached the outer layers of the Matrian atmosphere, “This one’s gonna be bumpy!”