Author: Brendan Chris
It has been several days since Wowryk released Craigan and Abela from the Matrian Spatial Interphase Device and the virtual reality it had generated. Matrian Rebels, led primarily now by Agent Jural and Mistress Laheya, continued raids, strikes and intelligence operations against the Qu’Eh troops occupying Matrian cities. In turn, the Qu’Eh have been reinforced by tens of thousands of ground troops. Clashes between the two have been growing increasingly heated, and increasingly harder to cover up. Regular citizens now rush quickly through city streets, afraid of being caught between a rock and an angry place. Hidden in the Evendra Desert, in Haven Installation, Stafford and his people continued working with the Matrians to keep the Qu’Eh off balance, waiting as Commander Noonan’s relief fleet came closer and closer to Matrian Space.
Things are finally coming to a boil.
City of Fanchescuut, Matria Prime:
“You’re sure you didn’t cross the wrong wires this time?” Ensign Simmons whispered urgently.
“Positive,” Lieutenant Marsden said confidently, “This is the third Quali-Tech building we’ve sabotaged. I’ve got it right,”
“That’s what you said on the last one,” Crewman Kreklor scowled, his Klingon features just adding to the expression, “Yet it too exploded after thirty seconds, rather than just being disabled after a few minutes,”
“Yeah, look, I figured out what I did wrong!” Marsden insisted. His arm was buried in the circuitry of a Qu’Eh transceiver system atop one of their call-center buildings. There was a click as he made one last adjustment. “See?”
“See what?” Lt. Cmdr David Stern asked.
Marsden frowned and buried both arms in the jumble of cables.
“I know I’ve got it right!” he insisted.
“Just cross the wrong wires,” Stern sighed, “We’ve survived two call-center explosions. What’s a third?”
There was another click.
Still, nothing happened.
“I think the Qu’Eh put some kind of protection buffer on their system,” Marsden said, shaking his head, “It’s not working,”
“Simmons, Plan B,” Stern snapped.
Simmons, a maniacal grin on his face, ripped open his pack and started pulling out various bomb components.
“Shouldn’t we wait until after hours, when the building is empty?” Lieutenant Rengs asked.
“It’s a call-center, it runs 26-8,” Stern said, “Besides, it’s not that big a bomb. We blow the transceiver array, everybody runs out screaming, no harm done. Worst-case scenario, somebody catches on fire and does the old stop, drop & roll,”
“Any sign of guards?” Stern asked.
“None,” Rengs replied. He frowned, “I thought the Qu’Eh had reinforcements?”
“So what are they doing with them all? They sure haven’t been doing much to stop us!”
Half a planet away, Stafford, Hektor and Anselia were returning from visiting the tribe of ‘primative’ Matrians led by Leader Hylin. Well, she had called herself Leader Hylin. Anselia had declared her to be Commodore Hylin, in command of the First (and only) Matria Prime Oceanic Defence Fleet. The discussions had been short, with Hylin being eager to help defend Matria and Stafford and Anselia having only a simple task for them: Deploy your submarines using the nifty sensor masks Lt Comd Jeffery has rigged, aim the anti-matter missiles at the Qu’Eh ships in orbit and wait for our signal. Lieutenant Bith had been left behind as a liaison. In any event, that particular branch of the plan was in place.
Now, Anselia and Stafford found themselves clinging on to their seats for dear life as Lieutenant Yanick, recovered from her ordeal, piloted the Matrian shuttle on its pogo-stick anti- gravity driven course.
“So, Trish,” Stafford said, “How’s the, um…little one?”
Yanick had laid an egg several days prior.
“T’Parief’s sitting with it right now,” Yanick replied, “Noel says everything looks OK, but she’s not really experienced with this kind of thing,”
“Who is?” Stafford shook his head in amazement, “But by ‘sitting with’, surely you don’t mean he’s, um, sitting ON…it? Right? Cuz…y’know…he’s pretty big…”
“No, he’s just holding it,” Yanick giggled, “Jeffery helped Noel rig an incubator for us, but Yvonnokoff said we should each spend time warming it ourselves every day. Something about parental bonds, or imprinting, or something,”
“Good idea,” Stafford said. Next to him, Anselia was looking out the window, a frown on her face.
“Christopher, look down there,” she said.
Stafford looked out the window, down at the sandy desert and line of troops beneath them.
Line of troops?
“Oh shit!” he exclaimed, “Are those Qu’Eh troops?? Why are there Qu’Eh troops in the middle of OUR desert??”
“Your desert, Starfleeter?”
“You know what I mean, your most majestic highness-ness!”
Yanick triggered the anti-grav again, sending the shuttle up into the sky before it started coasting down and forward. Stafford lost sight of the ground briefly, and then he again spotted the wide column of Qu’Eh troops making their way over the sands, strings of support vehicles behind them.
“Are they on foot?” Anselia wondered.
“They’re moving pretty fast. Probably using power-suits, or land-cycles,” Stafford marvelled. A ground formation like this was very rare in an age where orbiting starships could unleash incredible destructive power on a planet.
“What the hell?” he frowned, “Why would the Qu’Eh bother sending so many of their people into the desert instead of chasing after the rebels?”
“They obviously know there’s something to find,” Hektor said, sounding worried, “But they don’t seem to be heading in the right direction, if it is Haven they seek,”
“The Qu’Eh are experimenting with Federation technology they’ve been scavenging from Silverado,” Stafford said grimly,” They must have been able to use Federation sensors to either track our ships or Haven’s energy emissions. They know we’re somewhere in the Evendra Desert, but that’s it.”
“And now they’re narrowing down the search!” Anselia finished.
“How far to Haven?” Stafford demanded.
“The way they’re moving?” Yanick shrugged, “A couple of days, maybe a week. Give or take.”
Stafford and Anselia exchanged a relieved look.
“That’s not so bad,” Anselia said.
“That’s if they keep wandering around and searching,” Yanick went on, “If they manage to get a fix on Haven with those sensors, well, they could be there in a couple of hours,”
“You couldn’t just leave it at ‘maybe a week’, could you?” Stafford gulped.
Lieutenant Pye and Ensign Burke were sitting in Haven’s Signal Analysis room, each eyeing a different screen. The chamber, easily larger in diameter than the command center, was filled with displays showing everything from sensor scans to news broadcasts, all of it being fed by the linkup to Matrian Defence HQ. Pye’s screen showed the Qu’Eh controlled news broadcast. Burke’s showed a pirate signal that he’d helped the Matrian Rebels rig. The images on the two were very similar, but the commentary was vastly different.
“And in other news, the Dignity Way Gardens have been cleared to make way for a new, higher-quality green space, brought to you by the Qu’Eh Living Improvement And Renovation Services,” said the Qu’Eh controlled commentator. “L.I.A.R.S. is certain that all the citizens of Matronus will enjoy this new ecologically-friendly project-“
“Qu’Eh Customer Service troops razed the flower gardens on Dignity Way surrounding the Qu’Eh controlled government buildings, in preparation for Qu’Eh plans to install heavy fortifications in our government district,” said the rebel channel.
“Workers in Fanchescuut cheered news that Quali-Tech will be expanding into neighbouring buildings, allowing for the hiring of an entire new Quality Service Department,”
“The Franchescuut Quali-Tech building was sabotaged by elite Federation commandos. The Qu’Eh are struggling to open temporary buildings until their main facility can be repaired. On a related front, attempted suicides among Quali-Tech slaves has risen two hundred percent in the past week,”
“Chairman P’tarek is expected to announce today that Mistress Laurette, leader of the Matrian Republic, has permanently accepted the position of Site Director within the Qu’Eh organization and will be promoted at a ceremony aboard his ship tomorrow,”
“Mistress Laurette is being forcibly implanted with a Qu’Eh monitoring device,”
“And, finally, deep space sensors report all clear. No contacts anywhere in the star systems currently comprising Matrian Space,”
“Deep space sensors today detected a group of unknown signals holding position in the direction of Senous. While the nature of these contacts is not yet know, the Qu’Eh fear that this could be the long-awaited Federation relief fleet, and have sent out scouts to confirm this,”
Burke jerked up in his chair and started pounding at his console, trying to get access through the Defence HQ computers to the deep space sensors.
“Confirm that!” Pye ordered, rushing over to look over his shoulder.
“I can confirm seven signals coming in from the direction of Senous,” Burke said after a moment, “But I don’t know if they’re coming from Senous or Federation space. Or what they are. Hell, we could have a whole new group of hostile aliens on our hands!”
Nearby, Commander T’Parief was walking slowly around the edge of the large chamber. An oblong bundle roughly the size of a humanoid newborn was cradled in one arm.
“I’m more concerned with the implantation of Mistress Laurette,” he said, loud enough that they could hear them, but softly enough that they knew he was having one of those tender soon-to-be-daddy moments.
“That too,” Pye admitted.
The heavy entrance doors opened and Commander Jall emerged.
“How are you going to keep that thing warm if you’re cold-blooded?” he asked, taking one look at T’Parief and his egg. T’Parief just gave an irritated throat-rattle and started pacing in the opposite direction.
“Have the Hazardous Team prepare to deploy,” T’Parief called back over his shoulder, “Assuming the Captain approves, they will handle Mistress Laurette’s extraction,”
“Do it yourself,” Jall shot back, “And why would he OK that? Isn’t the point to have her out there drawing their attention while Queen Anselia and King Hektor are in here?”
“He’s got a point,” Pye called from his station, “All the Qu’Eh are going to accomplish by implanting her is prove to the rest of the Matrians just how evil they are. Let them parade her around with her shiny headgear. When the fleet gets here, they’ll turn on the Qu’Eh like…well, like you against Jall.”
“If that’s our fleet,” T’Parief mused.
“C’mon, sir. How many other fleets are we expecting?
Aboard the USS Banshee, Captain Jad Vorezze, Commander Charlotte Burns and Commander Matthew Noonan were also watching the Qu’Eh and Matrian news/propaganda broadcasts.
“Looks like this Matrian Republic is a busy place,” Vorezze said, “Those rebels sure are busy, considering they’ve only had a month or two to get going,”
“Dr. Wowryk has considerable skills at organizing a group of people to a cause,” Noonan mused, “Had she put her efforts into politics rather than organized religion, she would likely hold considerable influence in the Federation by now,”
“Sort of like how if Charlotte had put more effort in First Officer-ing and less into picking up parasites, we’d already be at Matria Prime?” Jad said innocently.
Charlotte, who had just finished fishing an eye-crispy out of her left eye, flicked it in Jad’s direction. The captain made a revolted face and started frantically brushing at his uniform.
“If only we knew more about the situation regarding our people down on the planet,” Noonan mused, ignoring the two bickering officers, “What is the optimal time of attack? Is an attack the best course of action, or can we simply blockade the Qu’Eh ships from the planet surface?”
“I’ve been trying to establish a communications link to the planet,” Lt Cmdr Dan Smith said from his station at security, “But all I get is ‘All our representatives are currently assisting other customers,”
Noonan turned to Vorezze, who was now trying to pull Charlotte’s hair while she slapped at his face.
“Captain Vorezze, I wish to borrow one of your Section 31 runabouts,” he said.
“Whatever!” Vorezze managed to say.
Deep below the desert sand, in the only small clinic they’d managed to find so far in Haven, Wowryk and Craigan were standing over the bed of Colonel Myress Abela. Well, technically the woman they were standing over was a clone of Abela, one grown by the original to house her mind after her original body succumbed to old age. Unfortunately, her attempt to switch bodies using a Matrian SID didn’t exactly go smoothly.
“I’m glad your people decided to destroy this blasphemous technology,” Wowryk said, “Can you imagine if people could just pop out of one body and into another? Escaping death, cheating our Lord?”
“Escaping illness, disease or injury?” Craigan mused.
“That too! The nerve! The blasphamy!”
“She looks just like she did when we first met,” Craigan said, not really paying attention to Wowryk, “Well, when she first imprisoned me. I can’t believe she might not be…all there,”
He reached out and shook one shoulder, as if to wake her. To his surprise, she stirred, then rolled onto one side.
“Defying the natural laws of nature! The laws set down by God himself!” Wowryk continued to rant, ignoring him.
“Give her about five more minutes, then try again,” Nurse Veeneman advised as she passed by.
Several levels under the Transit Hub, Stafford stood in a conference room just off Haven’s Signal Analysis room, looking through the transparent wall separating the conference room from the main room itself. Most of his officers along with Queen Anselia and King Hektor had gathered.
“Where’s Wowryk?” Jall demanded, “Just because I’m First Officer again doesn’t mean she gets to miss the meetings!”
“Never mind that now, we’ve got bigger problems,” Stafford said, “The Qu’Eh could be right on top of us at any time,”
“Which is, conveniently enough, the amount of time before the sensor contacts we’ve detected arrive,” Lt. Cmdr Fifebee added.
“Which means either way, we’ve got to figure out how to turn this place on!” Stafford said, slapping his hands down on the table, “Simon?”
“We’ve got teams diggin’ through these top-secret levels,” Jeffery replied, “Everything’s still locked down, but there’s some really, really interestin’ stuff here,”
“Like what?” T’Parief asked. He’d passed the egg off the Yanick for the time being.
“Like an energy receiver big enough to channel the power of five Sovereign-class starships,” Jeffery said.
“Or like the crystal substance generating the jamming field,” added Valtaic.
“Or the computer core, which is about the size of an office building,” Fifebee said.
“Whatever this place is for,” Jeffery finished, “It’s designed to channel a lot of power,”
“But to do what?” King Hektor demanded.
“It doesn’t matter,” a new voice abruptly cut in.
Everybody spun to see Wowryk and Craigan leading the Abela clone into the room.
“Holy shit!” Jall exclaimed.
Abela was clearly awake, but her eyes were still blank. She moved stiffly, guided mostly by Craigan. He carefully led her to a chair. After a few minutes of fussing, he managed to get her seated.
“Uh…Noel?” Stafford prompted.
“Abela is conscious,” Wowryk reported.
“Yes, we can see that, thank you,”
“She’s still in a vegetative state,” Wowryk said, “Her neuro-scans don’t show anything out of the ordinary, but she’s almost completely unresponsive. I thought some familiar sights might help,”
“Great, but what about your little ‘it doesn’t matter’ thing?” Jall said, twirling his fingers in a ‘hurry-up’ gesture.
“It doesn’t matter, because Jural, Laheya and I are certain that the Matrian people are ready for a full-out revolt against the Qu’Eh,” Wowryk said, “And I believe the arrival of our fleet,”
“If it’s ours,” Fifebee added.
“Is the perfect time.” Wowryk continued, “It is not military power that we need to defeat the Qu’Eh, it’s the support of the people of Matria. We have that,”
“I hate to break it to you, sweetie, but love and hugging and emotional support isn’t going to chase those Qu’Eh ships away,” Jall said sassily, “Otherwise the Matrians would have kicked the Qu’Eh out when they first came!”
“That’s what our ships are for,” Wowryk said, “Whatever part Haven plays, it’s not going to matter in the fight,”
“You cannot know that,” T’Parief said, “We have twelve hangers, many of which have ships capable of fighting the Qu’Eh!”
“And most of them are buried underground!” Wowryk shot back.
The both looked at Stafford, who looked at Anselia.
“Don’t look at us!” she said, “You people are supposed to be our experts on tactics and strategy!”
“Scary, scary thought,” Yanick muttered, rocking the egg gently in her arms.
The arguing and discussion continued. In the din, only T’Parief was really keeping an eye on Abela. He couldn’t completely explain it, but he’d seen something in her eyes the moment Craigan had mentioned something to her in the virtual world. Haven, yes. He’d told her it was time to go back to Installation some-number and she, just for a split second, had had a look in her eyes that T’Parief really didn’t like.
As he watched her, there was nothing in her eyes now. She simply sat there listlessly, staring blankly at the table. He couldn’t say for sure, but he almost thought she was…listening.
“Most of Matria won’t know that the fleet’s arrived,” Anselia was saying, after nearly an hour of discussion, “Even if it goes on the rebel news net, I just don’t think it will be enough of a signal!”
“We could assassinate Chairman P’tarek,” T’Parief suggested.
“Oh yes, then the entire Qu’Eh race can declare war!”
“We need something that just screams ‘It’s time!’,” Wowryk insisted.
“We are so not ready for this,” Stafford said, letting his head sink into his hands. Everybody turned to look at him.
“We’ve been preparing for this for what, weeks? Over a month? Getting the rebellion in place, getting ourselves setup in Haven and waiting for the fleet to arrive and make everything all better. Hell, we even found a handy missile submarine fleet!” He stood and walked back to the windows looking into the Signal Analysis chamber. On the display screens, Mistress Laurette’s ‘promotion’ was being advertised. “There’s something we’re missing. And I can’t help but feel that Haven…that something about this place is a big part of it!”
“This facility was constructed hundreds of years ago, for purposes we have yet to discover,” Fifebee shook her head, giving Stafford a look that was almost condescending, “It cannot have anything to do with the current situation,”
“Haven was built by our ancestors, under a unified and free Matrian Empire, before the Gender Wars,” King Hektor said slowly, “It’s the last uncorrupted example of our past, and the cultural information in the databanks is priceless,”
“What are you getting at?” Stafford demanded.
“Is it not obvious?” Hektor shrugged, “If you want a symbol to our people that it is time to rise up together and fight back?”
“Activate Haven,” Stafford nodded, “Which takes us right back to square one,”
“We don’t even know what it does!” Wowryk exclaimed.
“Agreed,” T’Parief said, “We don’t know that it ‘does’ anything, other than simply exist. How can we know that it would provide the signal we wish to send?”
“It will,” Abela said softly.
There was a moment of stunned silence then a sudden eruption of chaos from the direction of the conference room. In the Signal Analysis chamber, Ensign Burke looked up from the sensor readings he was studying.
“I think they should start serving decaf at those meetings,” he said to Lieutenant Day.
Day just shrugged and turned back to the news broadcast he was watching.
“I KNEW IT!” T’Parief roared, “YOU WERE FAKING!”
“What?” Stafford asked, looking helpless.
“She has been fully aware of us since we found her!” T’Parief accused, “She has deceived us all!”
“Can you blame me?” Abela said calmly, “After nearly a century stuck in that virtual place, I’m suddenly surrounded by a lizard, an electric alien, and the rest of you?”
“Didn’t you ever hear that honesty is the best policy?” Wowryk asked.
“This is coming from a woman who’s fantasy world involved a bloody massacre,” Abela said.
“Abela?” Craigan was looking just a bit betrayed, “How…why?”
“I simply decided to listen to what you all were saying before getting involved,” Abela huffed, “It’s called ‘gathering intel’. Something I did for a very long time,”
“It’s not a big deal,” Yanick said quietly.
“OK, fine,” Stafford waved a hand, “Let’s get back on track here.” He looked around at his crew, at the Matrians, at the people who’d been living underground for over a month.
“What does Haven do?” he said, staring directly at Abela.
Abela was quiet for a moment.
“I’m not telling you,” she said.
“WE BEG your PARDON?” Queen Anselia declared, aghast, “As the duly elected leaders of this planet, King Hektor and We demand that you tell us!” Next to her, Hektor nodded.
“I’m sorry, Mistress….I mean, your Highnesses,” Abela even bowed slightly, “But there’s more at stake here than just the next few days.”
“You left Craigan here to decide if we were suitable to have this place,” Fifebee said, looking at Abela curiously, “Why do you not give us the information we need?”
“Because you haven’t passed the final test yet,” Abela replied.
“Oh give me a break!” Jall exclaimed, “You still think we’re going to do…what, exactly? Try to take over your planet? News flash sweetie, somebody already did that!”
“This isn’t about the Federation, or the Qu’Eh,” Abela shot back, “This is about the Matrian people, and the decisions they and their leadership make!”
“You realize we’ve got Qu’Eh troops on the way!” Stafford said, “They could find us, force their way in and take this place by force?”
“Then you better hope you make the right choices,” Abela said, “But I will promise you this: If you are successful in activating Haven, it will most definitely send a very strong message to every Matrian on this planet.”
Commander Matthew Noonan sat in the runabout Leno as it soared towards Matria Prime. The runabout was cloaked, thanks to illegal Section 31 technology, and he was certain that he’d be able to easily slip in and out of Qu’Eh controlled space. What he wasn’t certain about was whether or not it was a good idea to let Captain Vorezze , Lt. Cmdr DiSanto and Dr. Lang tag along.
Taking the runabout out of warp, he brought up the sensor scans of the surrounded space. As expected, the Qu’Eh fleet had grown somewhat after Silverado’s defeat many weeks prior.
“Cruisers, attack ships and a lot of fighters,” DiSanto said, “We should be able to make a pretty good dent just with the Banshee alone,”
“You’re assuming the Qu’Eh have no surprises up their sleeve,” Noonan said quietly, “And you must remember, in order to keep your Section 31 secrets, the Banshee can only use conventional Federation technology during the fight.”
“Why would the Qu’Eh have surprises? These are corporate types,” DiSanto said.
“From all reports, they Qu’Eh are a ruthless, unrelenting enemy,”
“Right. Just like any corporation,” DiSanto said, “Going by that logic, they probably can’t tell their own asses from a bunch of holes in the ground,”
“I’m so glad we didn’t bring Rachow on this trip,” Vorezze muttered to Lang. She nodded agreement.
The runabout was moving past the Qu’Eh fleet now. As they approached the planet, they also began passing Matrian and Senousian ships that had been repaired, their crews enslaved by the Qu’Eh. (Of course, they didn’t know that yet.)
“I have a Federation ship on the sensors,” Lang said, “Ambassador-class. No life-signs, emergency power only. Looks to be in pretty rough shape,”
Noonan took a brief glance. Yes, there was Silverado, drifting in orbit.
“Ignore it,” he said coolly, “That ship will not be a part of this fight.”
Aboard the Qu’Eh vessel Fiscal Conservation, Chairman P’tarek sat in a comfortable office chair behind of row of Qu’Eh sensor technicians.
“You are certain this will work, Manager Kalmers?” he said coldly.
“Yes Chairman,” Kalmers replied, “We’ve removed several sensor pallets from the Federation ship. We’re directing them at the Evendra desert. We know there’s something there; we’re just tightening up the sensor focus now. The slightest energy emission will immediately be tracked.”
“It had better work,” P’tarek said, “I’ve had enough of this nonsense. It’s time to eliminate Stafford, Anselia, Wowryk and the rest of that meddlesome government and to cement our control of this planet.”
“Activating sensor sweep,”
“I’m getting some interesting readings from this Qu’Eh ship,” Dr. Lang said as the Leno passed close to one of the boxy green vessels, “They’re directing some pretty powerful sensor sweeps down at the planet. Right at that big desert,”
“Didn’t you say your people were hiding under a desert?” DiSanto asked Noonan.
“I did,” he said, appearing unconcerned, “However, Qu’Eh technology is less advanced than ours. They have been unable to locate the bunker in the past month, what are the odds they will do so now?”
“We’re picking up an unusual energy reading,” one of the sensor techs reported, “It’s on the vector followed by a sensor-shielded vessel spotted by our ground troops,”
“Excellent,” P’tarek said, “Put me on the broadcast channel. It’s time to explain to these people that we have the upper hand.”
In Haven’s Signal Analysis room, Lieutenant Day started shouting for Commander Jall’s attention.
“I’m here, stop shouting!” Jall said, stepping around one of the consoles. Following the end of the meeting, everybody had split off to their separate duties while Stafford and the Matrians met with the council. He looked up at the news broadcast, where P’tarek’s face was staring out of the screen.
“People of Matria Prime,” P’tarek was saying, “Finest quality to you all. I’m most pleased to announce to you the success of another initiative brought to you by the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority. Yes, this afternoon, our high-quality sensor technicians located an important item: your fugitive government. And in just a few moments, we will begin the process of liberating them from their lengthy…dislocation,”
“Jall to Stafford,” Jall was tapping his comm-badge.
“We’re in the middle of a council meeting, Jall!” Stafford’s voice came back, “Go knit something! This isn’t the time!”
“You need to hear this! And I don’t knit!”
“Minister Stafford, Queen Anselia, members of the Matrian Council,” P’tarek’s voice was growing silky, “I know you’re monitoring this message. And I know where you are. You have twelve hours to surrender yourselves and Haven to me, or I will effect a controlled demolition. Your time starts at the tone,” There was a pause, then an electronic beep.
“Surrender to us,” P’tarek said, “It makes the most business sense,”
P’tarek was about to sign off when he noticed one of the sensor technicians gesturing frantically for attention. Manager Kalmers spoke briefly with the boy, then gave P’tarek a complicated gesture that roughly translated to ‘Holy shit, this is important’.
“One moment, valued employees,” P’tarek said.
Aboard the Banshee, Commander Burns and the remaining officers were watching the same broadcast.
“Now that’s just rude,” Charlotte said as the screen switched to a ‘Please Hold’ motif.
“Right,” helmsman Ben Rachow agreed, “Once you make your threats and deliver your ultimatum, you’re supposed to get off the line and let your enemies sweat!”
The hold motif abruptly vanished, returning to P’tarek’s face.
“A most fortuitous turn of events!” P’tarek smiled, “We’ve been given the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness of our offer. Manager Kalmers, destroy the cloaked vessel attempted to sneak onto Matria Prime,”
“You don’t think he means our cloaked vessel, do you?” Charlotte asked.
“How many other cloaked vessels do you think are out there?” Smith replied.
“Hail the runabout!”
“So how are you going to find your Captain anyway?” Vorezze was asking Noonan.
“Federation sensors, even those that aren’t Section 31 enhanced, can detect the installation,”
“They can also detect Qu’Eh weapons preparing to fire!” Lang cut in.
The runabout bucked like a stung horse.
“How did they detect us?” Vorezze demanded, “We’re cloaked!”
“They must have been upgrading their sensors! We passed right between them and the area they’re scanning!”
“Warp drive is down, shields are down, but the cloak is stable,” Noonan reported calmly.
“Random course changes, get us out of their sensor range!”
The runabout shook again, though not as hard.
“Near miss,” DiSanto said.
“The Qu’Eh are firing at something,” Burke reported, “but there’s nothing on the Matrian sensor net!”
“One of our jammer ships?” Jall asked.
“No, we haven’t sent any missions into orbit since we rescued you,”
Jall looked around the Signal Analysis room. He could see the sensor images of the Qu’Eh vessels firing at empty space. Whatever they’d been attacking, it had slipped away from them.
Jall twined his fingers in his hair, which was getting pretty shaggy at this point, and started pulling.
“Ohhh, this is bad,” he said, storming towards the exit.
“What are we doing here?” Stafford demanded as the turbolift doors opened onto Haven’s command center, “My people have been over this place with a fine-toothed comb! Unless you’re going to give us the activation codes, I have a lot of other things to worry about. Like the Qu’Eh army that’s coming right at us!”
“Do you want my help or not, child?” Abela said as Anselia and Hektor stepped out of the turbolift.
“Hey, I’m no child!” Stafford said, following her up the stairs to the upper level.
“You’re at least one hundred years younger than I am, sonny,” Abela grinned a little.
“Look, I have a lot of work to do,” Stafford shook his head.
Abela had reached the upper level. She stood there for a moment, looking around like she owned the place.
“Why is the command center empty?” she demanded, “Where are your people?”
“They’re all down in Signal Analysis,” Stafford said, spreading his arms, “We can’t do anything up here,”
“You idiot, that’s because I locked it down!” Abela crossed her arms, “The SA room is for those voyeuristic little creeps in Intelligence! This is where…why am I arguing with you?”
“I don’t know,” Stafford said neutrally, “But it’s nice to see you’re feeling better.” He couldn’t help but notice that Abela had shifted rather abruptly from the listless invalid to the competent and intelligent woman Craigan had described. Or course, T’Parief was convinced that the whole ‘invalid’ thing had been a deception. Stafford was inclined to agree.
“First, get your people back up here,” Abela ordered, “Forget the SA room.”
“You know, I’m pretty sure ‘Minister of Planetary Defence’ outranks ‘Retired Colonel’,” Stafford said.
“If you’re in such a hurry with so much work to do, shut up and let me explain this to you,” Abela snapped.
Stafford raised his hands in surrender.
“Here’s the situation,” Abela said, “Haven can’t be unlocked by a single person. I changed the activation protocols.” She stepped over the central holo-table, then pressed her hand against the underside of one of the six curved, triangular extrusions. There was a series of beeps, then six identical holographic hand-prints appeared, evenly spaced around the upper edge of the table. Stafford jumped.
“Six of you,” Abela said, turning to Abela and Hektor, “Six of you have to decide that activating Haven is the right thing. Both for the Matrian Empire,”
“Republic,” Hektor muttered.
“And for the Matrian people,” Abela finished.
“But what does it do?” Anselia demanded.
“And which six of us?” Hektor added.
Abela looked briefly at Anselia, then turned to Hektor.
“That’s the part you’ll have to figure out.
With that, she pulled one of the chairs to the edge railing, right were it would give her a good vantage point over the dark lower windows. She sat and crossed her arms. Stafford, Anselia and Hektor all continued throwing questions in her direction, but she simply sat there, staring out in the dark main chamber.
Her part, for now, was finished.
Jall and Stafford ran into each other in the Transit Hub staircase. They each blurted their news, then stared expectantly at each other.
“This is a MESS!” Jall finally said, clutching his hair yet again, “We’ve got troops on one side, fleets on the other, rebels fighting soldiers, and now she wants us to solve a PUZZLE??”
“In twelve hours, according to P’tarek!” Stafford shook his head, “I can’t believe it! We’ve had so much time down here…how are we down to twelve hours?”
“You knew things were going to speed up,” Jall said, “And I doubt we have twelve hours! Now that they know our location, that army you spotted is going to be here as fast as their rides can carry them!”
“Look, maybe I should just grab six people, go on up there and flip the switch,” Stafford muttered, shaking his head.
“Do you really think Abela would make it that easy to spend a two hundred year investment?” Jall said, “I think you’re going to have to be a little more careful about the people you pick,”
“I know,” Stafford shook his head, “That’s the whole problem!” He thought for a moment.
“Evacuate all civilians from the outer rim,” he said, “We’ll make our stand at the hanger, then fall back to the island if the Qu’Eh overrun us. That’ll buy us enough time to figure this thing out. We just need everything to stay calm long enough for us to figure this one out,”
“How bad is it?” Captain Vorezze asked nervously as Commander Noonan and Dr. Lang dug around the runabout’s cramped engineering space.
“Our shield generator has gone on to a better place,” Noonan replied, “As has…whatever this is,” he pulled a blackened component out of the access panel and tossed it behind him.
“That’s a Section 31 matrix oscillator,” Lang said, glancing at the thing.
“And what does it do?” Noonan asked.
“Well…it…y’know…oscillates the matrix,”
“Weapons will take hours to repair, our port nacelle has a very large hole in it and we are beyond lucky that the very illegal cloaking device wasn’t damaged,” Noonan finished.
“Hey, that ‘very illegal’ cloaking device is half of what makes Section 31 so effective!” Vorezze said proudly.
Noonan chose not to respond to that remark.
“So, what now, oh grand and glorious fleet leader?” Vorezze crossed his arms.
Noonan climbed to his feet. He appeared to be thinking, except that his eyes had taken on a very vacant look, sort of a ‘Matthew has stepped out for the moment, back in five minutes’ deal.
“I sense that events are unfolding quickly on the planet,” he said after several moments, “Many of the cities are experiencing upheaval, I believe the Matrians are attempting to rebel against the Qu’Eh,”
“Sounds like the perfect time for the fleet to come in and take out their space support,” said Smith.
“I don’t know,” Noonan frowned, “When I try to focus my attentions on my crewmates, the sense I have is that they are…not ready,”
The runabout jolted as a chunk of space debris glanced off the unshielded hull.
“Look, screw this,” Vorezze said, “I’m firing up the impulse drive. We head back towards the fleet, get the Banshee to send us a tow, get back to the ship, then come on in with guns blazing,”
Noonan frowned. Vorezze’s plan made perfect sense, but somehow, he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was about to go very wrong.
Lt. Cmdr Riven Valtaic stepped out of the personnel exit to Haven’s hanger, the only hanger that was exposed to the desert outside. He’d been among the original four officers that had found the installation, but it had been a long time since he’d actually stepped outside. The dry, dusty air immediately drew a cough, and he reacted by generating just enough of an energy field to repel the dust.
The sky was clear and the sun was overhead. Valtaic couldn’t help but feel somewhat energized to be outside after such a long period spent underground. Still, he had a job to do. Ignoring the uniformed security officers working nearby, he walked across the packed sand towards the spot where the high, sandy walls hiding Haven fell away and exposed the flat, dune- swept plains of the desert. Within minutes, he’d found his query.
“You know, Fifebee thinks they built Haven into a large meteorite crater, then just covered up the top with sand,” Stafford remarked, not turning to face Valtaic, “By the way, that field of yours is making every hair on my body stand up and salute,”
Valtaic said nothing. He would allow Stafford to continue his pointless tirade until he was ready to come to the point. Surprisingly, it didn’t take too long.
“Take a look,” Stafford said, handing him a pair of electro-binoculars.
Valtaic peered through. Immediately, he could see the dark line of Qu’Eh troops speeding across the desert, a cloud of sand rising behind them.
“They will be here in under thirty minutes, by my estimate,” Valtaic said, alarmed.
“Yeah, no shit,” Stafford groaned, “We’re trying to prepare a last-minute surprise for them, and Laheya’s moved up all her rebel attacks. She’s hoping that if she hits them hard in the cities, they’ll divert troops away from Haven. But since P’tarek is going to destroy the place from orbit in another twelve hours, I hardly see the point.”
“The crew has been in worse situations than this,” Valtaic said.
“How would you know, you’ve only been with us for a few months!” Stafford snapped. He immediately raised his hands, “Wait, I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”
“But true,” Valtaic shrugged. It may have been the blunt truth, but in his culture that was a expected behaviour rather than an insult.
“Sir,” one of the security officers called, “We’re ready over here,”
Stafford started walking back towards the towering hanger doors.
“I’m going to stall,” he said to Valtaic, “Maybe once Abela sees Qu’Eh troops attacking her precious f**king hide-out, she’ll change her mind about her cryptic bullshit,”
“Or you could simply make a decision and attempt to activate the installation,” Valtaic said, “Choose the six people you think are best,”
“Make a decision, huh?” Stafford said, following a narrow path that led up from the desert floor to the metal ledge than ran the width of the hanger exterior, “You trying to say something?”
“Considering the fashion in which you attempted to select a new First Officer, it seems that you have a hard time making and sticking to a decision,” Valtaic said.
“Hey, I’ve made plenty of decisions!” Stafford shot back. He knew intellectually that Valtaic wasn’t trying to be offensive, but still! “It’s just that none of them involved the fate of an entire planet before,”
“I disagree,” Valtaic said, “As a Starfleet Captain, your choices often affect entire worlds, or at least the fate of their relations with the Federation,”
“I guess you’re right,” Stafford shrugged, “It’s just that, well, we don’t usually have such a history with the planets we deal with. The Matrians were our enemies when the crew was still learning how to work together, aboard Silverado. Now we’ve spent a lot more time with them then most starship crews spend with a people. Maybe a starbase commander is used to forging those kinds of connections, but not me,”
As they reached the ledge Stafford saw Jall, Wowryk and Jeffery standing just inside the airlock-style personnel door.
“So, have you convinced him to do anything yet?” Jall asked.
“No,” Valtaic replied simply.
“I could have told you that!” Wowryk declared, “Valtaic just isn’t confrontational enough to goad somebody into getting their ass into gear!”
“We can’t really blame ‘im,” Jeffery shrugged, “We can’t even figure out what we want to goad Chris into doin’!”
Stafford rubbed his temples. Behind him, the Qu’Eh army was drawing ever closer.
“You guys are really bad at this,” he said, grinning.
“Maybe,” Jall said, “But in so many other ways, we’re FAAAABULOUS!”
“I don’t care how fabulous you are right now, as long as you can shoot!” Stafford said, grabbing a phaser rifle out of a nearby crate and passing it to Jall.
Chairman P’tarek stood in the office of the Queen of the Matrian Republic, his fingers carefully interlaced. With the destruction of his flagship by the Starfleet commandos, he’d moved his office down onto the planet. He briefly contemplated the profitability of having the Starfleeters captured and mentally re-programmed to be Qu’Eh agents, then determined that the timeframe was just too uncertain. That, and mental re-programming often had the unfortunate side effect of rendering the subjects insane. Of course, if the Qu’Eh had been capable of effectively bending their enemies to their will, they would have had no need for the M-SID devices and no need to invade Matrian Space in the first place.
Realizing he was digressing, P’tarek returned his attention to fixing up a few last-minute homey touches for his new office. The inset lighting had been turned up to full, filling the room with near blinding illumination. The marble desk had been painted over, the better to protect the lovely surface from scratches, and a real-time monitor of Qu’Eh stock values had been hung on one wall, right next to an elaborate organizational chart of the Qu’Eh Corporate Assessment Authority. P’tarek’s little box was even illuminated!
“Site Director Laurette, unescorted, thirty seconds,” the cool voice of the current operator whispered into his ear via implant.
Quickly moving back behind the desk, P’tarek seated himself and prepared for the upcoming meeting.
Mistress Laurette, former Leader of the Opposition of the Matrian Council was not having an especially good day.
Only yesterday she’d been forcibly implanted by the Qu’Eh and now had to put up with one of their insufferable voices in her ear everywhere she went. And, according to reports carefully smuggled to her by key members of the rebellion, the device was transmitting everything she saw, heard or said back to the Qu’Eh monitors. Any contact with the rebellion was now out of the question. It was now weeks since Dr. Wowryk had gone on the planet-wide news nets and encouraged the Matrian people to fight back, the signals she’d hoped were the Federation fleet were just sitting outside the solar system and now P’tarek wanted her for another in a seemingly endless line of useless meetings!
“The Chairman is expecting you,” cooed a voice in her ear, “This meeting is rated as an 8.75/10 on the Formality Scale, and Friendly Banter is expected after the initial greeting but before you sit. Friendly Bantar during the greeting handshake is acceptable. We also recommend…”
Laurette fought the urge to bang her head repeatedly against the marble pillar next to her. She’d tried that once, before the implant had even been installed, and all it had gotten her was a ‘formal verbal warning’ and two hours of useless stress counselling.
Was this really what her people were coming to? Could it actually be that the Federation- ers were the lesser of two evils?
“Your entrance is expected in fifteen seconds, mark,” said the Qu’Eh in her ear. A dull throbbing pain was starting to set in next to the implant, growing stronger for every second she delayed.
Grunting, she walked the last few feet of the hallway and pushed her way into what had been, up until several days ago, her office.
“Ah, Site Director, finest quality,” P’tarke said, rising from behind the hideously painted desk and smiling, “I understand the school year at Matronus Downtown High School is just starting!”
“And I understand your vasectomy went well,” Laurette said sweetly, “Perhaps I can help you go a step further with a full castration?”
There was a sharp flash of pain from her implant.
“That comment is being appended to your permanent record!” snapped the operator.
“Let me cut to the point,” P’tarek said, “The Matrian rebels are causing considerable mayhem in cities across the planet. Your Federation fleet seems to have arrived, but is just sitting there, on top of which we’ve prepared a very nasty surprise or two for them. We have located Haven and targeted it with our space forces, and a small army is on its way to take possession.”
He tapped a button, activating a holographic display above the desk. Laurette was presented with a view of the desert, centered on a round, dome-shaped mountain of sand. To one side, tens of thousands of troops were quickly approaching.
“Convince your people to surrender,” P’tarek said, “I will even offer safe passage off Matria Prime to the Starfleet officers. This is a very generous severance package I’m offering,”
“And if I refuse?”
“Then we will destroy Haven, your King, Queen, much of your government,” P’tarek said, “And then turn our attention to exterminating your rebels, with as much bloodshed as can be arranged.”
“I guess we don’t have the option of forming a u-“ Laurette was cut off by an unspeakably painful blast from her implant. P’tarek stepped back, as though he’d been slapped.
“Blasphemous words, my dear,” P’tarek said softly, after a moment of shocked silence, “You want to tread very, very carefully. Otherwise your usefulness, and that of your people, will come to a rather quick and very terminal end,”
Laurette’s world spun. It came down to this. After decades (centuries?) spent fighting to bring her people onto the path of strength and power in the galaxy, she was now reduced to little more than a slave, forced to obey her Qu’Eh masters on threat of what was basically torture. She had ranted against the Federation when they’d offered membership to Matria Prime, and she’d raved against those Matrians who seemed to willing to give up everything she’d fought for.
Now, with a Qu’Eh implant against her head and P’tarek living in the Queen’s office, Laurette had to admit that trying to stand alone hadn’t done her much good. And yet, there’d been something in that…conversation. She’d struck a nerve with P’tarek.
Too bad it was probably too late to do her any good.
“What are they doing?” Jall wondering, looking out at the Qu’Eh soldiers swarming towards the hanger.
“They appear to be setting up some sort of projection device,” Fifebee said. All of Silverado’s senior officers had gathered outside the hanger doors, watching the Qu’Eh as Starfleet, Matrian and Senousian troops manned defensive positions.
“I sort of figured they’d just push on in and start shooting,” Jall shrugged.
“Ohh, there will be much shooting,” T’Parief almost purred as he caressed the photon mortar Lt. Cmdr Stern had just finished assembling.
“Except we’re outnumbered by about 40 to 1,” Yanick said, cradling her egg.
“Why is it that anytime you bring that thing around, I get a craving for omelettes?” Jall wondered.
“SAN!” Yanick cried, smacking him upside the head, “That’s my baby you’re talking about!”
“It’s OK, we don’t have any good cheeses down here anyway,” Jall muttered, rubbing his head.
There was a burst of light from the contraption, then a hologram of P’tarek and Laurette standing next to each other formed. The hologram itself was nearly thirty feet high and easily visible to everybody in the area.
“King Hektor, Queen Anselia, Minister Stafford,” Laurette started, “The Chairman has asked me to remind you that you have barely ten hours remaining before he, er, closes down the Haven branch, and to inform you that he plans deadly corrective action measures against the Matrian people if the Matrian rebels do not cease their illegal acts,”
“She must be joking,” Stafford shook his head.
“She’s just playing the role we set out for her,” Anselia reminded him.
Laurette gave P’tarek a weary look and almost seemed to sigh. Then, she abruptly hardened her expression.
“That is what he has asked me to say,” she went on, “What I will say instead is this: Pull together, hold true and kick the crap out of these corporate fat-suckers! Try to form a-“
P’tarek wasted no time. He drew his sidearm, aimed it square at Laurette’s chest, and shot her.
The hologram of Laurette fell to the floor, a smoking hole in her chest. P’tarek made an odd, almost religious gesture over the body.
“Thank you, but your services will no longer be required,” he intoned. His hologram turned back to face Stafford, Anselia and the rest.
“Surrender now,” he said, “This is the only offer that will allow the Haven office to remain in business,”
Stafford, Anselia and Hektor exchanged a glance.
Stafford smiled pleasantly and extended both middle fingers. Looking somewhat confused, the Matrian King & Queen followed suit.
“F**k you,” he smiled.
With a snarl, P’tarek cut the connection. Immediately, the Qu’Eh troops surged forward, their weapons firing.
Stafford and Anselia wound up ducking behind the same duranium shield as the first disruptor blasts reached them.
“This is no place for a baby…I mean a child…I mean…my egg!” Yanick said nearby, dashing back into the Haven hanger.
“We suspect that angering them may have been a poor idea,” Anselia said.
“Are you kidding, your highest-ness?” Ensign Simmons said, dropping in behind their cover, “We’ve got tens of thousands of bad guys about to try squeezing through this one little door! We can hold this position for hours!”
“Or until we’re blasted from orbit,” Valtaic called from the next shield over, easing around the edge to fire into the Qu’Eh army.
“They’d hit their own troops,” Fifebee said. She wasn’t even bothering to hide behind cover, as her holo-relay was inside the hanger itself. A blast of energy zipped right through her, scorching the huge hanger door behind her.
“I love that dress, by the way,” Simmons said to Anselia, “Maybe you and I could-“
“Get back to work!” Stafford shouted, giving Simmons a firm shove in the direction of the next shield over, “Anselia, Hektor, we should really get you two back to the command complex,”
“Call me!” Simmons called to the Queen. He sighted his phaser rifle and fired, stunning another Qu’Eh soldier.
“The attack has begun,” Craigan said, watching satellite imagery on a portable Federation display screen. “The Qu’Eh are assaulting the entrance hanger,”
“I wish you wouldn’t use those alien things, Caigan,” Abela said, “The communications and sensor systems were unlocked weeks ago by the Queen,”
“The Starfleeters couldn’t get the interfaces working,” Craigan said, gesturing at the control pulpits.
“Of all the incompetent fools to find this place,” Abela sighed. She sat at one pulpit and tapped at the panel. “It’s really quite simple! Why, even a child could…oh. Ooops. I forgot to add the sensor interface to the Prime Mistress unlock subroutine. Silly me!”
The central holo-table flickered, the holographic image of Matria Prime vanishing. Instead, the depressed, inner surface of the table showed a holographic image of the battle outside.
“Abela, there has to be defensive systems, shields, anti-intruder systems or something that you can use!” Craigan demanded.
“Craigan,” Abela sighed, “What’s happening out there is so far from the Matria I knew that I really can’t understand it. So I don’t have any right to interfere,”
“Shhhh!” Abela said, putting her finger to Craigan’s lips, “Soon, Craigan. You’ll understand everything soon.
“You know, I remember reading that people back in the days of the old Corporate Riots used to complain about having to deal with a faceless army of customer service reps,” Fifebee said, matter of fact, as she observed the two-way phaser range taking place around her. Actually, the Qu’Eh soldiers really were faceless; they all wore identical translucent face-masks.
“Ah think we’ve got them beat,” Jeffery said, hunched over a half-assembled Starfleet deflector shield generator.
The Matrian, Starfleet and Senousian defenders had excellent hit rates; after all it was impossible to fire into the mass of Qu’Eh troops without hitting one of them, the passage through the crater wall to the hanger bay had forced them to bunch up. Their body armour absorbed some of the blasts, but turning the phasers up a couple of notches had taken care of that. Still, through sheer weight of numbers, they were forcing their way closer and closer to the hanger itself.
“T’Parief!” Jeffery shouted, “Ah think it’s time to deploy that little surprise of ours!”
T’Parief’s lip jerked in a half-grin. Next to him, Simmons grabbed a control padd, then took a deep breath.
“Unity, and law and-“ Simmons started to sing, loudly.
“Give me that,” T’Parief snarled, snatching the control padd away and shoving Simmons back towards the photon mortor. He pressed the button.
There was a deafening roar as both sides of the crater wall passage abruptly exploded. The ground shook, sending dust up into the air. As the sound of the explosion faded, the rumble of moving ground rose, hundreds of tonnes of sandy rock tumbling down and crashing to the passage floor. The Qu’Eh scrambled, but were largely unsuccessful in evading the resulting rockslide.
“Ohhh, that looks messy,” Stafford said, watching the holo-display back in command center. He’d arrived with the Matrian royalty just in time to see the results of Jeffery and T’Parief’s surprise plan.
“Not very effective, however,” Agent Jural said coolly. He and Mistress Laheya had already been in the command center before Stafford had arrived, “We only killed about three thousand or so of them. We lost more Matrians than that in the initial invasion!”
Stafford looked like he’d just been slapped.
“These are still sentient beings we’re killing,” he said sharply, “Which is why we’re keeping our weapons set to ‘stun’ as much as possible!”
“And there are many more waiting to be killed,” Jural replied, “That rockslide may slow them down, but we just can’t deal with the numbers they’re throwing against us!”
“We need that shield up now, Jeffery!” Jall shouted, grabbing a fresh power cell for his phaser and tossing the old one over one shoulder, “They’re almost here!”
The Qu’Eh were working their way up the path to the hanger ledge, while more of them were setting up ramp-like force bridges that would allow them to march right over Haven’s defensive positions.
“Hold yer horses,” Jeffery said. There was a <snick> sound as he connected the final component. The generator hummed to life, blinking lights appearing across its control surfaces.
“Shield up!” Jeffery announced. A curved, hazy wall appeared between them and the Qu’Eh. The sound of Qu’Eh weapons fire faded as the shots were absorbed by the deflector shield instead of striking the duranium blast shields that had been rigged on the hanger lip. The combined Haven defence team jumped out from behind their barriers and began firing wildly into the Qu’Eh troops. The Qu’Eh had reached the shield perimeter itself, but found themselves repulsed by the glowing energy field.
“Shield is holding,” Jeffery said smugly.
Further back in the Qu’Eh lines, Jall could see several troops gathering around a large, barrel shaped device.
“I think the Qu’Eh are about to bring out the heavy artillery,” he gulped. Sure enough, the device roared, belching out a flaming ball of energy plasma that arced high over the Qu’Eh troops, only to land flat on the force-field.
“Shield is down to 70%!” Jeffery cried. Through the crackling energy, they could see two more devices being readied.
Jall’s eyes widened in horror.
“EVERYBODY BACK INSIDE!” he shouted.
“Jall to Stafford! The Qu’Eh brought out the heavy guns! We’re retreating inside the hanger!”
“Confirmed,” Stafford said, tapping his comm-badge. On the holo-table, they could see the tiny figures disappearing into the hanger’s personnel hatch as the portable shield was bombarded by Qu’Eh weapons fire.
“POSITIONS!” T’Parief roared as he ran from the entrance hatch to one of the hanger exits, intent on getting onto one of the higher landing platforms, the better to pick off the Qu’Eh as they rushed into the hanger.
“Oh, isn’t this ever so much fun!” Jall said to Jeffery as the two followed T’Parief, “Join Starfleet, see the universe, run screaming from an army!”
“Most ships aren’t stupid enough to get involved with people who use armies!” Jeffery panted, “Besides, nobody’s bloody screamin’!”
“AHHHHHHH!!!!!” Jall screamed.
“Ye bloody git!” Jeffery snapped, “Ye scared the piss outta me!”
“C’mon Jeffery!” Jall said cheerfully, “Scream with me! It’s great stress relief! AHHHHH!!!!”
“Oh, whot the hell,” Jeffery rolled his eyes, “AHHHHHH!!!!”
T’Parief spun around.
“RRRRRRRUUUUUAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!” he roared, jaws wide open, spittle flying from his teeth and fury in his eyes. Jall and Jeffery jumped back so hard they both fell to the carpeted corridor floor and scrambled backward in complete terror.
“Oh, I apologize,” T’Parief said calmly, wiping his mouth, “I thought we were comparing war-cries,”
The hanger shook as the Qu’Eh plasma blasts struck the huge hanger doors.
Valtaic had come up behind them as Jeffery and Jall climbed shakily to their feet.
“How long will those doors hold?” he asked Jeffery.
“Um, awhile,” Jeffery said, swallowing, “Ah mean, the big doors will. They’re solid, and Qu’Eh plasma weapons damage shields and circuitry, but aren’t as effective against metal. But they could blow the personnel hatch,”
“With a charge about that big,” Jeffery finished.
They turned to see Wowryk running at them.
“Quickly! Did any of you get a recording of that Qu’Eh transmission?” she demanded.
“Um, no,” Jeffery said, “We were a bit busy,”
“The Matrians have been recording much of these events as part of their obsession with history,” T’Parief said, “Ask them,”
“Where are they?” Wowryk asked.
“In the main hanger, setting up a defensive position, and likely to be killed in honourable combat,” T’Parief said.
Wowryk turned to run.
“Wait, Noel,” Jeffery ran after her, “Why’s this so important?”
“Because,” Wowryk said, “What do you think the Matria people would do if they saw a recording of the Qu’Eh leader killing their leader in cold blood?”
Up in the command center, nearly two kilometres from the hanger, the attack on the hanger door didn’t cause the slightest tremor. But on the holo-dislay, they could see the plasma balls splashing against the angled hanger doors, burning off the paint and blackening the metal, yet not doing a great deal of damage. A stream of Qu’Eh troops suddenly started pouring into the personnel hatch, but it would take hours for their full group to squeeze through. Suddenly, the attacking force pulled away from the hanger.
“Uh-oh,” Stafford muttered. He tapped at the holo-table, but nothing happened.
“How do I get the orbital space sensors back on this thing?” he demanded. Ensign Burke and Agent Jural looked over the controls for a moment, then pushed a button. They stared at the Qu’Eh fleet for a moment.
“They’re repositioning themselves!” Stafford said, “They’re going to-“
A bolt of light shot down from one of the Qu’Eh ships, impacting the planet. On another screen of the control pulpit, Burke pulled up the satellite view of the hanger door.
“Near miss!” he reported.
“They’re going to breach the hanger door with their ships, then let their troops pour in,” Laheya said, “Now would be a very good time for your fleet to show up,”
“The fleet!” Stafford’s eyes bugged out, “Scan the direction of the Senousan system! We were tracking a group of ships!”
“There’s nothing on the deep space sensors,” Jural said, having taken over a second control pulpit and its limited sensor access, “Wait!”
“We’ve got a fleet of ships coming in at Warp 9! They’ll be here in five minutes!”
Aboard the bridge of the USS Banshee, Noonan stood next to Commander Burns’ chair staring at the stars streaking by on the viewscreen. He’d never again sit in her chair, not after what happened the last time. The Stallion and the Champlain were visible on the screen, the tiny Constitution and the much larger Proxima-class ships warping in ahead of the Banshee.
“Matria Prime in two minutes, thirty seconds,” Rachow reported.
“So you’ve got plenty of time for a sexual encounter, assuming you could find a willing female,” said Captain Velorn, the Banshee’s Section 31 ‘guidance officer’.
“Insults are illogical,” Noonan commented.
“The existence of this ship and this crew is highly illogical,” Velorn shot back.
“I’m getting some funny readings from the planet,” Dr. Lang reported, “I think one of the orbiting ships is firing on the surface,”
“Then we’re arriving just in time to save the day,” Vorezze said confidently, “It’s just what we do,”
“There’s something funny about this, but I can’t get a very good reading while we’re at warp,” Lang frowned.
“Relax,” Burns advised, “The Matrian fleet and an old Ambassador-class ship nearly beat back the Qu’Eh. We’ve got six Federation ships and one Section 31 ship worth all of them. What could go wrong?”
“No, no, NO!” Stafford cried, watching on the display as the ships neared Matria Prime. They were close enough now that the sensors could identify them as Federation ships. A Sovereign-class, two Excelsior-class, a Constitution-class, a Constellation-class, a Proxima-class and a Miranda-class. One more than he was expecting, but Tunney must have tossed in another Operation Salvage ship while he was waiting for a battleship. Whatever, he was getting off track.
“What do you mean, ‘no’?” Anselia demanded, “I am a politician, yet I can see that this is a formidable fleet, far more powerful than the forces we brought against the Qu’Eh last time!”
“Agreed,” Mistress Laheya said, looking relieved, “I will admit, I doubted the Federation would actually help us. I’m very pleased to be proven wrong. Coffee, anybody?”
“The Qu’Eh have been upgrading their ships with technology they stole from Silverado!” Stafford shouted, “Jall shorted out most of our systems when he lost the ship, but they must have been able to reverse engineer some of our sensor and weapons components! Burke saw them testing a Federation-type phaser, and we know they used our sensor systems to find Haven!”
He clenched his fists as the fleet grew closer.
“They’re warping right into a trap!”
“We still don’t have interstellar comms,” Burke said, tapping at his control pulpit, “And they won’t be in range of the planetary network until they drop out of warp,”
On Abela’s display, the orbiting Qu’Eh ships fired on the hanger again.
“They hit us that time,” she reported, “A couple more like that, and the hanger doors will be breached.”
“Look!” Pye said, pointing at the holographic display, “The Qu’Eh ships!”
Except for the ship firing on the surface, the enemy fleet was repositioning itself, preparing to meet the incoming Federation fleet.
They all stared at the holo-table as the two fleets inched closer together.
Stafford spun to face Abela.
“Activate Haven,” he demanded.
“You activate Haven,” she said coolly, “I’ve already told you haw to do it,”
Stafford ran one hand against the underside of the table. As before, six palm-shaped, holographic authentication points appeared around the table’s edge. He stared at them, saying nothing. The Matrians and Starfleet officers in the command center stared at him, waiting for him to make a decision, to choose the six people that he felt could unlock the potential of the huge installation the Matrians had hidden away for centuries. Choose six people. It sounded so simple, didn’t it? They had most of the Matrian government hiding in the Transit Hub right now. Haven’s computers could tap right into the HQ security database, see their access levels, and in theory it would open right up. But Abela had made it abundantly clear that this was a test. This decision wasn’t just about finding six people who could unlock Haven, it was about finding the exact six people that should. That choice would either demonstrate to her that, together, the men and women of Matria and their Federation allies were ready for what their ancestors had left for them two centuries ago. Or that they weren’t.
How could he make that decision?
After another moment of silence, the holographic palm-prints faded out, replaced by the standard holo-table controls.
“The Federation fleet is dropping out of warp,” Burke reported.