Author: Brendan Chris
The Invasion of Matria Prime - Day 0
“Intruder alert!” Bith shouted, “I have multiple beam-ins on all decks!”
“I’m picking up thousands of life-signs on those transports!” Quintaine shouted, taking a moment to punch out the Qu’Eh next to him, “There’s no way we can repel them all!”
“Computer!” Jall called, “Initiate auto-destruct sequence, authorization Jall 764-Photo-Umbrella! 5 minutes, silent countdown!”
He looked around the bridge for a moment.
“Sorry folks,” he shrugged.
“Auto-destruct systems are offline,” the computer reported.
“Uh-oh,” Jall muttered.
“We can’t let the Qu’Eh have this ship in working order,” Day said, sounding almost thoughtful.
He and Jall stared at each other for a moment.
“Ohhh!!!!” Jall clapped his hands almost giddily before shoving Day away from the operations panel and going to work.
“I’ve re-established partial shields over the bridge,” Day reported, having moved to the engineering console, “But they’re not going to stay up for long!”
There was a banging sound from the hatch covering the Jefferies tube next to the turbolift. This time, a Qu’Eh boarding party was trying to force its way onto the bridge. The banging abruptly stopped, then there was the sound of weapons fire.
There was a crash as the Jefferies tube hatch exploded out into the bridge.
“Hold your fire,” Jall ordered. In the background, a low hum was slowly beginning to rise. The Qu’Eh troops pushed their way onto the bridge, their weapons pointed at the Starfleet officers. Jall slowly raised his hands, nodding at the others to follow suit. One of the Qu’Eh muttered something into a communications device. In the background the low hum was growing in both pitch and intensity. Jall was silently counting the time in his head.
A moment later, a single Qu’Eh climbed out of the Jefferies tube and onto the bridge. He was roughly humanoid but most of his features were obscured by the body armour and helmet he wore. He stepped out of the turbolift alcove and onto the bridge proper, looking around at the flickering panels, the shattered display at the back of the bridge and at the Starfleet officers standing next to their stations, hands raised. With a flourish he pulled off his helmet, revealing a pale, humanoid face. His hair was grey and was pulled back from a sharp widow’s peak. His right ear was a strange twist of cartilage, almost like a starfish doing the hokey-pokey. His left ear was obscured by a strange sort of headset. The earpiece appeared to be fused with his ear, right into the skull. A ridge ran along the left side of his face where the implant ran under his skin, right down to the side of his mouth. Here, a small microphone emerged from a puckered opening in his flesh.
“I am Manager Kalmers of the Qu’Eh vessel Synergy,” he declared.
Ten seconds, Jall mentally counted. The hum was becoming a squeal.
“I’m Commander San Jall of the Federation starship Silverado,” he said, bracing himself.
There was a cascade of sparks as the overload building in the ship’s impulse reactors was released directly into the ships systems. Sparks flew from the bridge panels, from the lights and even from the main viewscreen. The right wing of the forward helm/ops console exploded completely, singing Jall’s uniform.
All over the ship panels blew out, systems shorted and components melted into slag. In both the primary and secondary computer cores, bank after bank of isolinear chips shattered, processing nodes sparked and bio-neural gel-packs ruptured, the gel boiling as energy surged through it.
The lights on the bridge failed, the sound of the air-circulation systems died and the artificial gravity shut down. Jall found himself drifting weightless next to the remains of the helm console. The Qu’Eh commander, his face barely visible in the dim light coming from the small fires burning in the broken panels, was staring at Jall with a combination of fury and shock.
“Welcome aboard,” Jall finished smugly.
A few hours later…
Sitting in the Qu’Eh conference room, still wearing his charred uniform, Commander San Jall had to admit that so far Qu’Eh captivity hadn’t been that bad.
After delivering his witty yet cutting remark to the Qu’Eh commander, Jall had expected to be punched, kicked or at least stunned. Instead, Manager Kalmers had politely invited Jall and the other bridge officers to come with him. Of course, his eye had been twitching at the time, and the starfish-like tendrils of his free ear had been writhing in what really looked like anger, possibly even rage.
Still, considering that he’d just completely fried every system on the ship, including life-support, and that remaining on board would undoubtedly result in the death of the remaining crew, he’d opted to accept Kalmers’ offer.
The bridge crew, consisting of Jall, Wowryk, Pye, Day, Bith and Quintaine, had been beamed over to one of the Qu’Eh vessels and informed that they had an hour or so to get cleaned up before their meeting. What this meeting was exactly nobody would tell them. They occasionally saw other Silverado crewmen, captured Matrians and a few captured Senousians being led through the alien vessel, but their captors wouldn’t allow them to speak, stating that they all had ‘very busy days’ ahead of them.
The ship itself was fairly unremarkable. Jall believed they were on one of the larger Qu’Eh vessels, which really weren’t all that large anyway. The corridors were all decorated with beige panels, tan carpeting and, of all things, ugly, fake plastic plants. He didn’t know if the Qu’Eh found the colour scheme to be soothing, exciting, or science-fiction-y, but he figured the cast of ‘Trading Starships’ would probably tell the Qu’Eh their ship was the biggest piece of office-space trailer-park trash in the quadrant.
Seated next to him in a comfortable-looking yet very uncomfortable chair, Dr. Noel Wowryk yawned.
“Don’t show them any weakness, dah-ling,” Jall said, patting her hand, “Besides, if you start yawning, I’m gonna start yawning, then Pye will start yawning…”
Wowryk said nothing.
Wow, Jall mused, she must be exhausted if she isn’t even slapping me away.
“Now now, we can’t have any of that!” a voice came, almost song-like, as another Qu’Eh came bouncing into the room. For a moment, Jall was almost reminded of Yanick, except that the Qu’Eh woman had several bumps on her skull, weird starfish-ears and a very large implant fused into one side of her skull.
“Inter-office romances can be exciting,” she said, giving them a grin, “But they cause more problems in the long run!”
“Dr. Wowryk isn’t capable of romance,” Jall said flatly, yanking his hand away from hers.
“And Commander Jall couldn’t pleasure a woman if you drew him a labelled diagram!” Wowryk muttered.
“Oh, I understand,” the woman smiled again, “This isn’t an office romance…you’re married! How sweet that your corporate culture allows such a thing between co-workers!”
Jall and Wowryk looked at each other and recoiled in horror.
“Nearly two years now,” Lieutenant Bith said calmly, shooting Jall a catty smile.
The Qu’Eh woman referred to her wrist chrono.
“Very well, that concludes the Friendly Banter portion of our meeting,” she said curtly, her smile vanishing, “Nothing like a good bit of FB to get the day going! Now then, I am Assessor Andrayas and I will be facilitating this session. We have Manager Kalmers joining us via conference link. Good day, Manager,”
“Assessor,” Kalmers had appeared on a large viewscreen and now nodded at Andrayas, “Have you seen-“
“We’ve already completed FB, Manager,”
“Understood,” Kalmers said, his voice immediately flattening.
“Let us proceed,” Andrayas said, with the voice of somebody who had done whatever it is she was about to do about a million times.
“We will be assessing Commander San Jall of Starfleet in his performance during the Merger of Matria Prime. If you would all take out your monitoring forms, we shall begin.”
The Silverado crewmembers looked at each other in confusion, then down at the padds that were laid out in front of them.
“As prisoners of war,” Jall said, standing up, “I demand that my crew and I be treated humanely and with dignity. Anything else will draw grave consequences once Starfleet-“
“Please spare us stories about your former employer,” Andrayas said, “As members of the Qu’Eh organization you will be treated the same as our other employees. Now, kindly shut up so we can get to work.”
Confused, Jall sat.
“Normally, we would have a compilation of your own laws and codes of conduct ready to assist us with your evaluation,” Andrayas continued, “However, with the destruction of your computer core, this information are not available to us. Fortunately, I have been authorized to give you bonus points under the ‘Job Efficiency’ category for carrying out such an excellent job in ensuring that your technology didn’t fall into our hands!” Andrayas looked almost giddy with excitement, “Now, should we place these under ‘Correctly Completed Necessary Assignments’, ‘Completed Implied Tasks’ or ‘Additional Performance Expectations’?”
She looked at them expectantly.
“Oh my God,” Jall whispered, realization hitting home.
“Yes,” Wowryk sighed, “I figured it out a while ago,”
“Please don’t say it, Commander,” Pye pleaded.
“We should have just blown up the ship and died,” Quintaine said, slumping in his chair.
“They’re QUALITY ASSURANCE!!!” Jall screamed, “ESCAPE ATTEMPT ALPHA! NOW!”
It took a moment for Bith to realize he was talking to her.
“Oh, right!” security officer said, pushing her tired body into action, launching herself at Andrayas and knocking the Assessor to the floor. Jall, Wowryk and Quintaine charged the door while Pye and Day started hunting for anything that could be used as a weapon.
Unfortunately, when the door opened nearly a dozen Qu’Eh soldiers were standing there, weapons aimed.
“Abort,” Jall swallowed.
“Over four of your Earth hours since your capture and this is your first escape attempt?” Andrayas tsk’ed, climbing back to her feet. “Well below average. But,” she brightened, “we can discuss that at the Assessment Briefing for your escape attempt. For now, let’s watch Manager Kalmers’ recording of your capture and discuss Commander Jall’s climactic dialogue!”
“I don’t remember being informed that my performance was being recorded for quality assurance or training purposes,” Jall grumbled, eyeing the phaser rifle pointed at his head as he returned to his seat.
On the surface of Matria Prime, the Hazardous Team was doing a much better job of blending in.
Of course, the fact that they’d been rounded up and dumped in a sports arena along with hundreds of Matrian soldiers had helped. The Qu’Eh had captured them, disarmed them, then dumped there here to wait. Ironically, they were in the very sports arena that was supposed to serve as a refuge for Silverado’s non-essential crew. Luckily, most of Silverado’s crew along with the Matrian government and a smattering of Matrian citizens had been hidden away in some sort of underground Matrian bunker in the middle of some desert somewhere. Stern had originally been annoyed that the co-ordinates of the place hadn’t been shared with the HT, but given how events had played out he’d been forced to concede that keeping it secret wasn’t that bad an idea.
Come to think of it, Stafford, Jall and the Matrian leadership had had a few too many good ideas in the past week. He wasn’t sure about the Matrians, but he was pretty sure that Stafford and Jall had used up their good idea quota for the next six months.
There was a bit of a ruckus from one of the gates that led from the arena proper out into the promenade housing ticket & refreshment sales. Pushing through the crowd, a trio of Qu’Eh soldiers dragged Lieutenant Rengs and Lieutenant Marsden into view.
“Four escape attempts in four hours,” the leader said, “Enough! I understand you want to score well on your assessment, but my troops have better things to do than chase after you!”
The Qu’Eh turned and left, presumably to resume guarding the exits.
“That’s enough for now, you two,” Stern said, wondering what that funny Qu’Eh ear cartilage would feel like on his…never mind. It’s Stern, you don’t want to know.
“Any idea what this ‘assessment’ stuff they keep mentioning is?” Rengs asked.
“When they attacked, the Qu’Eh said they were here to ‘audit the society’ and that they would ‘assess our quality’.” Marsden said, “It almost makes it sound like they want to grade us or something, but that’s just silly,”
“Yeah. More likely it’s some funky kind of torture,” Simmons said. He turned to Marsden, “How did you remember that anyway?”
“I’m our hostage negotiator,” Marsden said proudly, “I’m supposed to have a good mind for details.”
“Speaking of details,” Stern said. He paused, then looked around to ensure they weren’t being listened to. Stafford’s order for the team to wear Matrian uniforms rather than Starfleet was certainly helping them blend in, even if Kreklor’s forehead-hiding hat and Dar’Ugals fur-hiding coveralls looked somewhat ridiculous. “Remember that giant underground cavern that’s supposed to be under this city? The one the Matrian women used for their hibernation thingy?”
“Yeah,” Marsden said.
“Not really,” Simmons muttered.
“Do you remember how to get down there?”
“Oh boy,” Marsden bit his lip, trying to think back to the mission reports.
“Not really, no,” he admitted.
“Well,” Stern eyed one of the Qu’Eh guards, “I think it’s something we need to figure out.
Qu’eh Invastion +3 Days:
Site Director Laurette of the newly-formed Matrian Outsourced Component of the Qu’Eh Corporate Assessment Authority, formerly Governess Laurette, Leader of the Opposition of the Matrian Republic, formerly Mistress Laurette, Supreme Ruler of the Matrian Dreamland, formerly…formerly…well, she was a bit fuzzy on the details of what she’d been doing prior to entering Dreamland, well over a century ago. She was reasonably sure she’d been a member of the all-female Governing Council which had overseen the war against the men. A war that had devastated their world and their population. Laurette was fairly fuzzy on a lot of what had happened in Dreamland over the decades, but she did remember struggling to regain her power. The struggle had clearly been successful, up until her failed bid for galactic power. Why she had lost that power to begin with, she could only guess. She suspected that because she was one of the leaders that had maintained that the men had to be defeated by force (as opposed to negotiated with), she had fallen out of favour with the people after it became apparent that their civilization had become crippled.
The thought that she could have prevented the whole damned mess by running the war and dealing with the Male Rebellion differently never crossed Laurette’s mind. The idea that maybe it was her fault that the Federation had been dragged in to meddle in Matrian affairs likewise didn’t occur to her.
What was running through her head was that for at least the third time, the path of her people was no longer under her control.
As the Leader of the Opposition in a government led by that soft peace- monger Anselia, Laurette had enjoyed a certain amount of freedom. She’d easily found a group of dissidents and had quietly diverted funds in their direction, hoping to eventually start a full rebellion against the current government and their foolish plans to give up control of the planet to the Federation. Sure, the Federation could say they just wanted a partnership, not control, but Laurette knew better than that.
Unfortunately, the majority of Matrians didn’t seem to agree with Laurette. So what she’d wound up needing was leverage. Political leverage. She needed something that would force the people onto her side. So while Anselia had wasted two years worrying about the future, Laurette had been digging into the past. The very past that she’d spend years carefully altering while in Dreamland. If she’d known then how valuable unaltered information on the past would become (or that her tampering would be discovered.) she might have kept a backup, or something.
Anyway, after nearly two years of hunting, she had started noticing that something was missing. Looking through old construction reports, resource allocation tables, transaction records and various other tidbits that she’d found too tedious or irrelevant to alter, she’d come to the conclusion that prior to the Gender Wars the Old Matrians had been building things. Big things. She wasn’t sure what they were or what their purpose was, but they were heavily classified at the highest levels of government. And that meant they were probably very, very important.
It had taken months of careful, painstaking searching to locate what she hoped was an Old Matrian artefact; a single hanger door built into (buried by?) a massive sand-covered mountain in the middle of a desert. Unfortunately for her, her team had barely had a chance to explore what they’d found when those idiot Starfleeters had barged into the place, closely followed by the Qu’Eh invasion. Now Anselia, Stafford and, conveniently enough, many of her political enemies (and allies) were hiding deep underground while she was left to deal with the Qu’Eh.
“Site Director,” a Qu’Eh functionary had walked into Laurette’s (formerly Anselia’s) opulent office, a clipboard held (as always) in one hand, “You’re due for Assessment #232 in ten minutes,”
“Ah yes, Assessment #232,” Laurette said, a bit of acid in her tone, “And which, my dear, would that be?”
The functionary looked at his clipboard.
“The sewage processing system in J’Taeri,” he replied, “And if I may say so, Site Director, if you were to have a headset installed, you’d find it-“
“I don’t think so,” Laurette cut him off.
“Of course. My mistake,” the man bowed low, his ear-things twitching, “But Manager Hretkot is waiting…”
“Yes, yes, let’s go then,” Laurette snapped.
The Federation may have wanted power over Matria Prime, but at least they hadn’t been intent on torturing her in the process.
As she followed the Qu’Eh down the beautifully crafted corridors of the Matrian government complex she had to admit that, so far, the Qu’Eh occupation of Matria was going exactly according to plan. The Qu’Eh were more than willing to accept her as the Matrian leader who had ‘disposed of’ Anselia just in time to welcome the Qu’Eh. She’d been able to negotiate with Chairman P’tarek, giving him complete control over the Matrian military forces (including the captured Starfleet officers) in return for his assurances that the Matrian people wouldn’t be harmed. And if Starfleet did show up in a few weeks to destroy the Qu’Eh occupational forces, the people would see her as the brave leader who had protected them during the occupation.
It might not be enough to convince the people that Federation membership was a bad thing, but it would surely be enough to guarantee her political defeat of Anselia. And hey, if the Federation really did come to their aid, maybe membership could be useful after all.
Either way, that idiot Stafford and that red-headed bimbo Anselia had unwittingly put her in a win-win situation.
The Invasion of Matria Prime - +5 Days:
Dr. Noel Wowryk was sitting in her day cell, pondering just what the hell it was the Qu’Eh wanted with them. The last few days had seen them immediately forced into a routine: Wake up in the small, cramped sleeping cells they’d been assigned, eat a brief breakfast, then get dragged by a pair of guards to a conference room to commence ‘Monitoring’. All of them had understood when Jall had surrendered that they were becoming prisoners of war, and they had only their hopes that the Qu’Eh wouldn’t kill them, or worse. But this was just…strange.
Small meals were served five times a day, though Wowryk really didn’t care for the dry, bland Qu’Eh food. It was like eating from some of Jeffery’s spare parts bins…everything was individually wrapped, universally adaptable and it always seemed like the one thing you wanted was missing.
The food she could survive. She’d had to live on Starfleet rations before…and of course she was well accustomed to ritual fasting. (Which was looking like an increasingly preferable alternative to the Qu’Eh cuisine.) It was the monitoring that was on the verge of driving her mad. She had no idea how they’d done it, but the Qu’Eh had apparently been working tirelessly to analyze every action taken by the allied Federation/Matrian/Senousian fleet. They’d finally managed to decrypt the communications channels, and now had hours of Matrian comm chatter to analyze. And consider. And debate. And assess. And debate. And critique. And debate even more.
Wowryk herself had been put on the spot several times for commands she’d given. At one point, Assessor Andrayas had stood with surprising passion and demanded “Is there any other order you could have given? Were you really, TRULY focused on serving your customers on the Matrian vessel ‘Bill of Feminine Rights’?”
“I was focused on trying to be a good First Officer,” Wowryk had said coldly, looking down her nose at the woman, “And why should I co-operated with you anyway, heathen? You are the enemy!”
“Ahem,” Jall had cleared his throat, and then pointed at the armed guards pointing very large weapons at them.
“Oh, yes,” Wowryk had said, annoyed, “Them,”
After the daily assessments had been done they’d been taken to this cell block, consisting of small, cube-shaped rooms each containing a single chair and a work station. Jall and Day had jumped immediately on the Qu’Eh computers, only to learn with disappointment that they weren’t connected to the Qu’eh network and would do nothing but display quality guidelines.
“What is torture?” Lieutenant Day mused aloud, sitting in his uncomfortable chair.
“Being Jall’s wife,” Wowryk said.
“Being Wowryk’s husband,” Jall said at exactly the same moment.
“That was sweet, by the way,” Pye said to Bith, “I’d high-five you, but the force field in front of my door would probably burn my hand off,”
“Seriously, however,” Day continued, the sensual undertone of the dark-skinned Deltan’s voice managing, as always, to catch everybody’s attention, “We have not been beaten, starved, raped,”
“If only,” Jall muttered wistfully. Wowryk shot him a disgusted look.
“Maimed, deprived of sleep or drugged,” Day continued, “If they wanted Federation secrets, why aren’t they pulling out Jall’s fingernails or something?”
“Hey, don’t go giving them ideas!” Jall snapped, “Do you KNOW how long it takes to get my cuticles this smooth???”
“Physical torture isn’t a useful means of interrogation,” Wowryk said, “Any information we give our captors while under extreme duress is immediately suspect.”
She was about to say more, but noticed that everybody was looking at her with surprise.
“I went to medical school, you know! And underwent extensive Starfleet training to become a medical officer! We DO study these sorts of things!”
“She’s right,” Quintane said, “It costs virtually nothing for them to keep us here and feed us, especially since they just conquered the resources of an entire planet.”
“But what are they gaining?” Jall wondered, “And why these ‘Quality Assessments’?”
“Psychological torture,” Wowryk said immediately, “Far more effective. If this keeps up, we’ll all crack faster than the poor souls in the lake of fire,”
“And the mystery of why Noel’s such a bitch is solved!” Pye declared. Wowryk threw an empty cup in the direction of his cell, only to see it vaporized by the force field.
“That’s Dr. Wowryk to you, Beta shift!” she snapped.
“They don’t think they’re torturing us,” Jall said, frowning and ignoring the peanut gallery, “They’ve assessed Manager Kalmers and some of their other commanders. I think their society genuinely works like this,”
“It feels like torture to me,” Day say, sighing.
“Why invade Matria Prime to begin with?” Quintane asked, suddenly changing the topic, “Do they want resources? Technology? Expertise?”
“And why do they care whether or not Jall’s hygiene was up to code during the battle?” Bith jumped in, “How does it affect them?”
“It was, by the way,” Jall said.
“Sir, my station is right behind you. I could see the dandruff,” Bith said.
“Ohhh, you catty little…it’s on!”
As Bith and Jall continued to bicker, Wowryk closed her eyes and tried to think. OK. Jall was right: the Qu’Eh wanted something. They’d invaded Matria Prime for a reason. Why? Why had the Federation offered membership to Matria? Well, because the Matrians had asked for it. But surely there was something they possessed that the Federation was interested in. Why else would they promise to defend a planet so far away from their borders? Was it a matter of expansion? Wowryk had learned, during her many visits there, that Waystation was now the center of a serious push to expand Federation territory, and a permanent presence in Matrian space would sure help accomplish that…
What the hell was she thinking????
Wowryk’s eyes flew open.
She was a doctor, for the love of all that was holy. Tactics, strategy, motivation…none of that was her area of expertise. Her job was to heal bodies. And try to convert them to Christianity, that went without saying, but above all she was a healer. Why should she care what the Qu’Eh wanted? She should just ask for a sickbay, or an infirmary or something, and insist that the Qu’Eh put her in charge of the prisoners’ health needs. That would certainly allow the Qu’Eh to make the best ‘quality use’ of their resources!
Why, then, was she still thinking about what the Qu’Eh might be doing to the Matrian people right now and how she could help stop it?
“THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE!” Mistress Laurette screamed, storming in to the office that Chairman P’tarek had claimed as his own in the Matrian government complex.
“Please, Mistress, we have workplace codes of conduct for a reason!” P’tarek said, “If you wish to discuss something with me, you need only to send me an email,”
“A WHAT???” Laurette shrieked, “I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THESE BIZARRE QU’EH SYSTEMS YOU USE, OR WHAT-“
“An electronic message,” P’tarek clarified, “And if you don’t calm yourself, I shall have you removed from office.”
Clenching her fists, Laurette tried to think of something calming. Trees…birds…Anselia languishing underground while Laurette ran the Matrian Republic.
“You’ve ordered us to give you full control of our historical archives!” Laurette said, having gained some control of herself, “Not access, or a copy…you want full control!”
“Of course,” P’tarek said calmly, “Your society must be audited. We must examine the past, as well as the present,”
“Even,” P’tarek gave a dark smile, “If records of the past are…unreliable,”
Laurette felt her temper flare again.
“Please,” P’tarek waved on hand imperiously, “You couldn’t even keep that a secret from your own people, never mind from us. I promise you, your civilization’s quality score will be strongly affected by that little bit of carelessness in your record-keeping. Documentation is everything!”
Laurette clenched her teeth.
“Is that all?” she managed to ask.
“Actually, no,” P’tarek said, smiling. He rose from his desk and came around it to take Laurette’s arm, “I have a little announcement to make to the people of Matria Prime. One I think you will find most interesting…”
“Come with us,” the burly, Qu’Eh guard demanded, dropping the force field on the Silverado officers’ day cells/cubicles.
“Please don’t tell me we’re doing more assessments,” Jall groaned, “I really, really don’t think I can take any more of that!”
“No.” The guard refused to say any more, merely shoving Jall roughly towards to hatchway leading into the corridor.
Meanwhile, Laurette and P’tarek were taking a shuttle from the surface up to the orbiting Qu’Eh fleet. Laurette took a moment to privately savour the obvious damage to most of the Qu’Eh ships. As they came in closer to the lead ship, one of the greenish, boxy Qu’Eh cruisers, Laurette could see tiny space-suited figures crawling along the hull, replacing components on the broad, table-top like upper section. The narrower segment beneath it seemed to be their destination.
“I’m glad we had the chance to spend a bit of private time together, Mistress,” P’tarek said. Laurette grunted non-committently.
“I mean it,” P’tarek went on, “Hostile takeovers are never easy, but your people seem to be adapting quickly to the change in management. I’m sure others will, like yourself, take advantage of the new opportunities we’re offering you,”
As the shuttle banked around P’tarek’s ship, something else caught Laurette’s eye: A disabled Matrian cruiser was drifting in orbit, some distance from the Qu’Eh fleet.
“I’m sure they’ll be most grateful,” Laurette managed to say. Her eyes were locked on the damaged Matrian ship as her mind envisioned it crashing it into P’tarek’s ship, vaporizing the vile man in a massive fireball.
“Take inventory,” Jall snapped, “Now!”
They’d been taken into a broad auditorium and had been forcibly seated near the front row. The walls and seats were the same bland colours as the rest of the Qu’Eh ship, and a neat buffet sat untouched along one wall. A U-shaped balcony ringed the room, filled with dozens of armed guards pointing their weapons at the crowd of prisoners below.
Twisting their necks around, the Silverado bridge crew began searching for familiar faces.
“There’s Ovens,” Quintaine said, “And Gorsrope,”
“Sage,” Day added, “Piths.”
“I’ve spotted five of the Senousian fighter pilots,” Jall said.
Eventually, they managed to determine that the entire captured Silverado crew, over a hundred members, was present along with the crowds of Matrians and the scattering of Senousians.
“Ok, so why are they keeping us waiting?” Jall wondered, “What’s this all about?”
“Maybe they’re going to kill us?” Wowryk gulped, “How sinful!”
“Probably not,” Jall said, “They could have done that days ago.”
“Does anybody want Last Rites anyway?”
“No,” Pye said, “But could I have a hug?”
The lights in the auditorium dimmed. The green curtains parted and three figures stepped out. Jall immediately recognized Chairman P’tarek as the slim, slightly sibilant man strode confidently onto the stage, bringing a wave of anger over many of the prisoners. Next to him, Mistress Laurette looked pretty damned pissed herself, her ceremonial garments more rumpled than Anselia would have ever permitted. Finally there was Admiral Verethi, the commander of the Matrian Defence Forces. Her face was impassive, her eyes cold. Jall took a small amount of pleasure in imagining the verbal abuse she was likely heaping on the Qu’Eh trying to control her.
With the appearance of the Qu’Eh leader, the prisoners erupted in a wave of shouting and accusations. A few flung themselves at the stage, only to be pushed back by a force field.
“Silence everybody,” P’tarek called out, his voice amplified by some unseen sound system, “If I could have your attention, please!”
“F**K YOU!” one of the Silverado crewmen screamed, electing a chorus of agreement from the surrounding prisoners.
As a flash of rage washed over his features, P’tarek gestured at his guards. One of them carefully sighted then fired at the offending prisoner, a flash of green light engulfing the man. Wowryk jumped from her seat, rushing towards him. She’d barely reached him when he disappeared in a transporter beam. A hush fell over the crowd as the rest of the guards readied their weapons.
“Please, Dr. Wowryk, return to your seat,” P’tarek invited.
“Stunned,” Wowryk said softly to Jall as she passed him. Jall nodded imperceptivity as she sat.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” P’tarek said loudly, his words and image being broadcast to the other Qu’Eh ships, to the Matrian government complex and into homes across the planet, “To those of you present here, I am so pleased to be able to join you, in person! To those of you watching over visuLink, I’m pleased you are able to join us for this auspicious event.”
He applauded. Laurette joined him, though Jall noticed that Verethi did not. Somehow, the fact that Laurette’s ‘coup’ had been planned by Stafford and Anselia as a way to protect the Qu’Eh government wasn’t comforting him in the slightest. None of the prisoners applauded.
“Now, I am pleased to announce that the initial assessment of the Matrian Republic has been completed!”
Jall and Wowryk started.
“Does that mean they’re leaving?” Wowryk demanded.
“Somehow I doubt it,” Jall replied.
“You society and culture have much potential,” P’tarek continued, “Sadly, it has been plagued by a series of unfortunate events. And so, after much deliberation, we have assessed your civilization as a 2 - ‘Needs Improvement’. “
Both Verethi and Laurette shot surprised looks at the Qu’Eh leader. Verethi looked ready to take a swing at him, but directly in her field of view (and out of sight of the cameras) a Qu’Eh soldier carefully aimed his weapon at her.
“However, in light of the potential you have for improvement, we have decided to take you on full-time!” P’tarek beamed, “An offer is being made to all of your Matrian Defence Forces, effective immediately, for full-time employment with the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority! Additional offers will be made in the coming weeks as we more fully integrate your corporate world-space into our own. I am confident that in the span of a few short decades, we can bring your score up to a solid 3 - ‘Business Standard’.”
“Turning down these offers,” P’tarek’s radiant smile abruptly took on a sinister quality, “would not be good for business.”
“End transmission,” P’tarek’s assistant said into his microphone implant.
“Excellent,” P’tarek said, nodding as guards joined him on stage to keep a closer eye on Verethi and Laurette, “I’m so pleased we didn’t have to shoot anybody on camera. It’s good for keeping people in line, but it’s really not the sort of public image we wish to project.”
Verethi abruptly exploded into a burst of rage, screaming curses and epithets and swinging her arms at the Qu’Eh leader. At least Jall assumed she was screaming. One of the Qu’eh had pointed a small device at her mouth, cancelling out any sounds she was attempting to make. Her guards easily restrained her from attacking P’tarek.
“Those of you in this room,” P’tarek spoke, ignoring Verethi, “are senior officers and crew member of many of the Matrian cruisers disabled during the unpleasantness last week. We are even fortunate enough to be joined by the esteemed Dr. Wowryk herself, whom I understand made quite an impression on your people.” He smiled pleasantly at Wowryk, who simply gave him one of her darker looks, usually reserved for the vilest of sinners or Commander Jall.
“As I’m sure you are aware, transitions like the one your culture is currently undergoing don’t happen easily, or overnight. There will be a great deal of resistance, among the people and even among yourselves. To that end, we will be taking steps to ensure that we receive only the highest quality of service from you, our newest full-time employees!”
“I don’t like this,” Pye said, his fingers gripping his seat.
“Commander Jall, would you please join us on the stage?”
“Um, no thank you,” he said politely.
“Perhaps I should be more precise,” P’tarek said, “Come to the stage, now.”
“Perhaps I should be more precise,” Jall said, perfectly mimicking P’tarek’s tone and posture, “Go f**k yourself,”
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks, and Jall abruptly found himself standing on stage. Two Qu’Eh guards stepped forward to restrain him.
“Bring in the Badges of Office,” P’tarek said.
Two Qu’Eh stepped onto the stage from the wings, each holding a small box. They stopped next to P’Tarek and, in unison, opened the boxes. P’tarek reached in.
“First, to Adesen Verethi, we proudly confer on you the title of Assistant Vice-President of Defence!”
He turned, giving Jall and Verethi a good look at what he’d taken out of the box.
It was a Qu’Eh implant.
Verethi began struggling anew as P’tarek brought the device to her head. As soon as the round, dome-shaped implant came in contact with her ear, she abruptly jerked, tiny metal tendrils reaching under her skin, fusing the device in place.
“And to Commander San Jall of Starfleet, we confer the title of Manager, and command of the Qu’Eh vessel Resource Reclamation,”
Before he could struggle, Jall felt one of the guards press a weapon against his back. He tried to twist his head away as P’tarek approached him, another implant in hand, but was unable to evade the Qu’Eh leader for more than a few seconds. He felt the cold metal on his ear, then a strange, numbing sensation. He could hear the crunch as metal tendrils forced their way into his skull and he could feel a mild stretching sensation as more components forced their way under his skin. In his ear, a soft voice was now speaking.
“Welcome to the Qu’Eh organization,” it said, “As a new member, Assistant Manager, Manager, or even Vice-President, your co-operation and a high quality of service are essential for the success of the business. As such, this implant, the LucenLux 5000, will allow immediate and effective monitoring of your individual quality. This implant allows your immediate supervisor to reward you for a job well done, or punish you for failing to meet established quality standards. Punishments vary from discomfort, to extreme pain and even to death. Remember, you are an important resource to us, and we look forward to many years of pain-free service on your part. Your performance will now be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes,”
“Now she tells me,” Jall groaned
Lt. Cmdr David Stern watched the huge display screen in the Matrian sports arena. After P’tarek’s face vanished, replaced by strange looking symbols, Stern turned to the other members of the Hazardous Team.
“I think that’s our cue to get the hell out of here,” he said softly to Lieutenant Rengs.
“I thought our cue to get the hell out of here came when were captured and brought here in the first place,” the Bajoran muttered back.
“Well, yeah, it was,” Stern said, “But now it’s REALLY time to do it,”
“I’ll go get Captain Glotenfish,” Lieutenant Marson said, leaving the group.
“I still say we cannot trust him,” Crewman Kreklor said. The Klingon was sweating (and stinking) up a storm on account of the big woolly hat that was hiding his alien features from the Qu’Eh guards.
“He’s a Matrian,” Stern said for the fiftieth time, “This is his planet, there’s no way he’d betray us to the Qu’Eh,”
“I’ve considered betraying you to the Qu’Eh,”
The HT turned to look at the Matrian soldier that Marson had just brought to their gathering, somewhat surprised by his sudden confession.
“What the f**k?” Simmons demanded, “How can you…what…after all we’ve done…”
“Down boy,” Stern said, “You’re sputtering,”
“I’ve decided that it would be a bad idea,” Glotenfish said, looking slightly afraid of Simmons as the explosives expert started unconsciously reaching for his grenades. (Luckily for the Matrian, Simmons had used them all in the battle.)
Glotenfish was a Matrian male, fairly short by the standards of most species. He had been one of the local troop commanders. His Matrian rank roughly translated to that of an army Captain, which weirdly enough was the equivalent of a Starfleet Lieutenant. He’d been an officer on board one of the Matrian vessels that had been responsible for repeated raids and kidnappings on Senous, back when the Matrian men were under the influence of the mind-controlling M-SIDS. After the Matrian civilization had switched from conquest and kidnapping to co-existence and rebuilding, he’d stayed with the Matrian Defense Force and had been transferred to the planet to help shape the planetary police and security force. He’d been captured along with the HT near the end of the Qu’Eh invasion. Despite his low rank, he was the highest-ranking member of the Matrian forces present.
“You heard?” Stern asked, gesturing to the screen.
“I did,” Glotenfish said, taking a deep breath, “We’re ready,”
“You’re sure about this?” Rengs asked, “The Qu’Eh won’t be treating their captives as well after we break free, you can bet on that!”
“If it means some of us have the chance to strike at them later?” the Matrian man asked, looking surprisingly cold despite his not-so-manly features. He turned to leave.
“We’ll be waiting for your signal,” he said.
The HT exchanged a look.
“When did we get so hard-core?” Stern wondered, “I mean, listen to us! We sound like a squad of Federation Marines, or something!”
“We bad! We bad!” Simmons started waving his hands over his head and swaying his hips.
“There goes that image,” Rengs muttered.
In orbit of the planet, Jall, Wowryk and the Beta shift officers had been escorted to a Qu’Eh shuttle which was taking them to their new ship.
“This sucks,” Pye said, scratching at his Qu’Eh implant.
“Tell me about it,” Jall agreed, “How am I going to score with this thing clamped to my head? Implants are SUCH a turn-off!”
“It could be worse,” Wowryk chided them, “Borg assimilations are far more invasive. This is more like…like…”
“A minor violation?” Quintaine grimaced.
“I’m sure with proper equipment these things could be easily removed,” Wowryk went on, “I just doubt the Qu’Eh will give us access to said equipment.”
“I can’t help but notice,” Jall said, glancing in Wowryk’s direction, “That one of us here didn’t get a nice piece of ear jewellery,”
“Don’t ask me to explain it, because I don’t know either!” Wowryk snapped, unconsciously rubbing her bare ears, “Perhaps the Qu’Eh simply recognized that violating a child of God in such a way would be unforgivable!”
“Or maybe,” Jall said, “They’re familiar enough with our customs to know that, as a doctor, you’re going to do your job without being coerced. Unlike us,”
“I just don’t get it,” Bith said, “The Qu’Eh invade the place, shoot up the defence forces, and then they just tell us we’re going to work for them? Do they really think that we’re going to obey everything they say just because they’ve stuck some stupid chunk of metal in our- YEEEOOWWWTTTHHHH!!!!!”
Bith jerked as a blast of blinding pain shot through her body, coursing from her implant, right down to her toes and back again.
“This is Supervisor Neum,” a calm, measured Matrian voice spoke through all of their implants, “To answer the lady’s question, we do indeed expect you to work for us without reservation. The consequences for disobedience are…unpleasant. Thank you for choosing employment with the Qu’Eh,”
The voice disappeared, but Jall was certain that Neum, whomever she was, was still listening to everything they said.
“What happened? What’s going on?” demanded Wowryk, who hadn’t heard anything.
“This is bad,” Pye said, biting his lip, “This is very bad. They want us to serve in the Qu’Eh fleet? What if we’re on one of their ships when Tunney’s fleet gets here and obliterates everything? What if they send us off to invade somebody else? What if they expect us to ‘hire’ other people?”
Jall was looking at Wowryk again, wondering just why P’tarek hadn’t deemed it necessary to implant her.
“I wish I could have been one of the people down on the planet,” Sage muttered.
“Trapped in an und-“
“Oh, look at all that SPACE WEATHER out there!” Bith said suddenly, pointing out the shuttle cabin’s viewport, “What great SPACE WEATHER we’re having!” Glaring at Sage, she tapped her implant.
“Ohhhh!” Sage’s eye’s widened, suddenly aware of the information he’d nearly given away, “Er, yes. That is very interesting space weather,” he said robotically.
“This is bad,” Pye repeated.
Wowryk was looking out the viewport. She’d noticed something out of the corner of her eye when Bith hand pointed, and it was getting closer.
“Oh no,” she murmured, “No, no, no,”
“You have GOT to be kidding me,” Sage groaned, following her gaze.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the pilot’s voice came over the shuttle’s intercom, “We’re coming up on the Qu’Eh Cruiser Resource Reclamation. Please fasten your restraints and prepare for docking,”
Directly ahead of them, growing larger in the viewport, drifted the Federation starship Silverado.
“I don’t think we’ll be leaving Matrian Space for a good while,” Jall said, a thoughtful look on his face.
Down on the planet, Stern was ready to give the signal that would hopefully initiate enough confusion for himself and the Hazardous Team to escape.
“This has to be the WORST escape plan ever,” Rengs muttered.
“As opposed to flinging Frit Naketh over a wall with a blanket back when the Senousians captured us?” Marson wondered.
“The Senousians didn’t give us beer,” Stern reminded them.
The Qu’Eh hadn’t put any real effort into the care and feeding of their captives. As a sports arena, their makeshift prison was equipped with over a dozen snack booths, drink stands and even a rather upscale restaurant. The Qu’Eh had simply beamed in additional stock and supplies as those present ran low and left the cooking and distribution to the prisoners themselves. They had distributed about two thousands ‘Prison Quality Survey’ forms, and kept nagging Glotenfish to tabulate the results.
Stern and the rest of the HT wandered over to one of the stands that sold the Matrian equivalent of beer.
“Give us a round,” Stern ordered, “We need to blow off some steam,”
The female Matrian corporal behind the counter looked him over.
“Are you wanting beer, or could I offer you boys in something a little more…entertaining?” she gave Stern a suggestive smile and unzipped her shirt slightly.
“I love the women on this planet,” Stern grinned, “They’re so…horny!”
“By the Prophets,” Rengs rolled his eyes.
“Wait, is she offering for…um, all of us?” Simmons asked, jumping up and down like a hyper dog, “You guys are my buds, but I dunno if I really want you to see my-“
“Get your minds out of the gutter!’ Rengs roared, “Some of us are married, and we all have work to do!”
“Ohh!” the women exclaimed, “You meant the pass phrase! Silly me!” she zipped her shirt back up and turned to get some glasses.
“But…but…” Stern’s lip quivered.
“Here you go,” she said, putting several cups of beer on the counter, “Good luck!’
The HT began making a slow circuit of the promenade, beers held prominently in hand. As they passed each stand, the Matrian police/soldiers/whatever started busying themselves with their beverage dispensers.
“This is a stupid idea,” Rengs said again.
“That’s why it’s perfect,” Stern said, “It’s clever, it’s unexpected, it’s-“
“It’s like that time we tried catching a cartoon coyote with a quantum torpedo?”
“That was on the holodeck. It doesn’t count,”
They’d almost finished their circuit of the promenade. The Matrians who had been informed of the plan were doing a very bad job of looking nonchalant. But the heavily armed Qu’Eh soldiers guarding the exits didn’t seem to notice.
“Ready?” Stern asked.
“No,” Rengs groaned.
“Yes,” Simmons cracked his knuckled.
Dar’ugal merely sighed, knowing his fur was about to become completely unmanageable.
Stern took a deep breath.
Agent Furdenit was a fairly low-ranking Qu’Eh employee, and so it really had been no surprise when he’d been assigned the monotonous task of guarding Matrian prisoners until they could be hired and put through the proper orientation process. Still, he hadn’t been prepared for the sheer boredom of standing guard over a bunch of very quiet prisoners. He wasn’t sure if the Matrians were naturally submissive, or if the Qu’Eh had just done a good job of taking the fight out of them. Of course, he couldn’t know that decades of mind-control had installed a certain obedience in the predominantly male soldiers. Nor did he know that several of his prisoners weren’t Matrian or particularly obedient.
All he knew was that one minute he was standing there, minding his own business, then the next one of the prisoners started screaming:
Before Furdnit could react, he was hit by a blast of freezing cold, bubbly liquid.
All around the promenade, the Matrians manning the beverage stands pulled out their handy little filling spouts, took aim, and blasted the Qu’Eh guards. Similar to beer taps on Earth, the Matrians had fairly small hoses with a variety of buttons that allowed different types of beer to be dispensed. A tweak here by Stern, a minor programming change there by Marsden, and the low-pressure dispensers had been transformed into high-pressure beer cannons. The Matrian soldiers rushed at the Qu’Eh, cups of beer and sugary, soda-like beverages in hand, all of it being flung at the alien troops. The Qu’Eh tried to fight back, only to find their weapons jammed up with bubbly liquid.
“SCATTER!” Stern cried, leading the HT out the arena doors and into the streets, a small army of Matrian troops following suit.
Chairman P’tarek sat in his command chair aboard his flagship, eyes closed. He was listening carefully to the flow of voices coming through his implant. He switched through many of the newer channels, listening to Verethi rant about the evils of the Qu’Eh, one of the Matrian ship captains plot to destroy a Qu’Eh cruiser and Commander Jall…well. P’tarek didn’t understand all of the alien profanity, but the man was clearly unhappy about something.
None of it mattered. The rebellious Matrians would be dealt with and learn that they really couldn’t resist the Qu’Eh, not now that they’d been hired on full-time.
“Chairman? We have a problem,”
P’tarek opened his eyes, somewhat annoyed that his monitoring had been interrupted.
“We have many problems,” he said calmly, “All of which can be solved with feedback, analysis and the application of proper quality control,”
“A group of Matrian soldiers escaped from the detention center in the capitol city!” the man exclaimed.
P’tarek’s eyes flashed. He seemed on the verge of screaming then, with visible effort, calmed himself.
“I want notes placed in the files of each of the guards,” he said, “Rate their performance as 1 - ‘Unsatisfactiory’,” he said.
“Y-yes Chairman,” his assistant stammered. Those guards would be lucky to survive their next Performance Reviews!
“How did they manage to get away?” P’tarek asked.
“They attacked our men with…um…beer, Chairman,”
“That doesn’t match our pre-assessment of their usual procedures, does it?” he mused.
“Hmmm,” P’tarek stared out his window, looking down at the planet below.
“Bring Dr. Wowryk to me,” he said finally, “We will have to increase our planned transition. Contingency plan C-21-4.”
“As you command, Chairman,”
“This is the main shuttlebay,”
“Usually, the crew simply refers to it as ‘Shuttlebay 1’,”
“I know that too,”
“It is used for the egress, ingress, storage and maintained of the Resource Reclaimation’s support craft,”
“Yet another useless little tidbit of information that my fabulous mind is already fully aware of,”
The Qu’Eh, introduced simply as Facilitator Yugreth, was proving to be an interesting lesson in cultural similarities for the Silverado officers. At the moment, he was teaching them that the Qu’Eh mannerisms relating to frustration were very similar to those of most humanoids.
“Manager Jall,” he said, crossing his arms and clutching his clipboard to his chest.
“Commander Jall,” Jall corrected, “Commander has ‘man’ in it,”
“So does ‘Manager’!” Yugreth snapped. He took a deep breath, then scribbled some notes down on his clipboard.
“Manager Jall,” he said again, “I’m attempting to ensure that you and your people are familiar with the layout and the amenities of the Resource Reclaimation so you can better complete your assigned tasks,”
“This is our ship!” Quintaine pointed out.
“Yes, yes it is. You’re assigned here as of today,” Yugreth said, “Now, as I was saying,”
“This is a Federation starship!” Jall snapped, a vein in his forehead starting to throb, “We’re from the Federation! WE FLEW THE F**KING SHIP HERE!”
“Ah, yes I do see that in the notes here,” Yugreth agreed, though apparently he didn’t register the information, “Now then, the Resource Reclamation is an Embattled-class starship-“
“Ambassador,” Sage spoke up.
“-has thirty-five decks-“
“-and was constructed in Box Dock 3 in Earth orbit-“
“Try Utopia Planetia. It’s the renovations that were done in BD-3,”
Yugreth dropped his arms in exasperation.
“Look, I have all the notes right here! Who do you think is right: you, or a carefully prepared orientation briefing?”
“WE’VE SERVED ON THIS SHIP FOR FOUR F**KING YEARS!” Jall screamed.
“Then I would expect you to be more familiar with his specifications,” Yugreth said, looking down his nose at Jall.
“Her,” Wowryk said, “We refer to our ships in the feminine,” Privately, she was rather enjoying the fact that Jall’s head looked almost ready to pop.
“Well that’s just silly,” the Qu’Eh laughed.
“F**k you, f**k your orientation briefing and f**k the- YYEEOOOOOWWWIIITTTCCCHHHH!!!” Jall’s tirade was interrupted as a blast of pain shot through his body, “AND F**K THIS F**KING PIECE OF S**T IMPLAT…AAAARRRGHHHH!!!”
“Are you finished?” Yugreth asked calmly.
Jall just glared.
“Excellent,” Yugreth took a quick look around the shuttlebay, “Well, as this is the only habitable section of this vessel at the moment, I’ll be returning to my ship for the night. Make yourselves comfortable, we have a big day tomorrow!”
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks then the Qu’Eh vanished, leaving them standing there in the middle of the shuttlebay. A few seconds later, a pile of supplies materialized.
“Let me be sure I understand this properly,” Lieutenant Day said, his voice surprisingly calm, “The Qu’Eh wish us to repair Silverado, then serve aboard her as members of their fleet,”
“Exactly right,” Supervisor Neum said, through their implants.
“They have got to be kidding,” Sage groaned, looking around the room.
At the end of the battle against the Qu’Eh, Jall had tried ordering a self-destruct with the intention of preventing Silverado from falling into Matrian hands. When that had failed, he’d rigged the impulse reactors to build up a massive overload, then release it directly into all the ships systems. The end result was that Silverado was completely dead in space. The display panels near the shuttlebay exit, the panels lining the control booth on the second level and even the lighting fixtures on the ceiling had all blown outward, littering the floor with debris. Life support had been down for days, causing the ship to cool to close to absolute zero on the dark side while the side of the ship towards the sun had become uncomfortably warm. The bay was illuminated by a bank of Qu’Eh flood lights, heated by a Qu’Eh heater and provided with breathable air by a Qu’Eh air exchanger.
Once Yugreth had disappeared, Jall calmed noticeably.
“Let’s see what they’ve left us,” he said, pointing at the supply pile. Pye, Day and Bith immediately started digging in while Sage started poking at one of the blown-out panels. Other Silverado crewmembers were milling around the bay and Quintaine quickly took charge of organizing cleanup teams.
“If you need to talk about it…” Wowryk said softly.
“Nothing to talk about,” Jall replied shortly.
“I’ve rarely seen you so…enraged,” Wowryk said, crossing her arms, “I realize we’re not the best of friends, but given the circumstances-“
Jall turned, then grabbed her hand. Wowryk almost yanked it away, then remembered she was supposed to be offering support. When he started stroking her hand, however, that was the last straw.
“HEY!” she snapped, yanking her hand back.
“What?” Jall’s eyes widened, “Oh! No! I wasn’t…just give me your hand and pay attention!”
“Wow,” Supervisor Neum’s voice giggled in Jall’s ear, “Your ‘Quality of Sex’ form is going to make for interesting reading tomorrow!”
“Shut up!” Jall snapped. Wowryk looked about ready to hit him, but he pointed at his implant, then rolled his eyes. He took her hand again.
It took Wowryk a moment to realize that he wasn’t just stroking her hand: he was writing letters on it.
<THEY HEAR EVERYTHING,> he wrote, <I WANTED YUGRETH TO THINK I’M UNHINGED. IT WILL BE USEFULL.>
He released her hand.
“Now, let’s see what they’ve left us to work with,”
The supply pile had yielded bedrolls, portable food replicators, portable power supplies, tools, some raw ore and a parts replicator.
“We’re supposed to fix the ship using THIS?” Sage exclaimed, his eyes bugging out.
“We’ll do what we can,” Jall said.
“But we’ve got thirty-six decks of fried circuits, blown out panels…I mean…there…EVEN THE GRAVITY DOESN’T WORK!”
“There are thirty-five decks on an Embattled-class starship,” Supervisor Neum said into their ears.
“SHUT UP!” Jall, Sage, Bith and Pye shouted, causing Wowryk to jump in surprise.
“I’m taking points off this week’s quality assessment!” Neum snapped back.
“Jall,” Day said suddenly, spotting something else in the pile, “Is that a-“
“It is,” Jall cut him off, making slashing motions over his throat. Was it a mistake? Did the Qu’Eh mean to give it to them? Was it even what he thought it was?
“Excuse me,” Jall said, grabbing what he was very sure was a subspace transceiver, along with a power supply, and running off to the far corner of the bay.
“Huh?” Pye started, one hand going for his implant. “What? Oh. Um, what if I don’t -OUCH! OK!” He turned to Wowryk, “Chairman P’tarek politely requests that you join him in his office,”
“Oh, sure,” Wowryk crossed her arms again, “And how exactly do I get there?”
She abruptly vanished in a transporter beam.
“Something like that, I guess,” Pye shrugged.
Wowryk found herself in what she assumed was Chairman P’tarek’s office. It actually seemed sort of familiar, in the way that something that’s completely stereotypical can be familiar. Wowryk had done a bit of research on President Bradley Dillon once, one of the more successful businessmen in the Federation. The images she’d seen of his offices made them seem classy, upscale, the sort of places where one was awed by the care that had gone into their design.
P’tarek’s office felt like it wanted to be Bradley Dillon’s office.
The room itself was strangely shaped, almost star-shaped, but with irregular angles. The bland tan colours of the walls and ceilings didn’t work at all with the green, obviously fake wood panels and P’tarek’s desk was a massive chunk of some transparent material that looked like it picked up fingerprints the way Jall picked up tricks. The chandelier would have been acceptable, if it hadn’t consisted of coloured bulbs that give it the appearance of a Christmas tree. The mood lighting was horribly overdone, making the room far too bright. Finally, it looked like somebody had tried to use fixtures of precious metals to give the room a feeling of wealth…which just reflected the way-too-bright mood lighting.
“Dr. Wowryk,” P’tarek stood and came around his desk to greet her, “It’s such a pleasure to be able to sit down with you for a bit of one-on-one time. Please, make yourself comfortable. May I offer you a beverage?”
“Water,” Wowryk said coolly, taking a seat.
Another Qu’Eh immediately came in with the requested beverage.
“As you can see,” he said, his minion departing, “There are advantages to being monitored,”
“But for some reason, I wasn’t good enough to be ‘hired’?” Wowryk asked bluntly, “Or perhaps you recognized that what you’re doing is a travesty against God and-“
“Please, my dear, we must keep religion separate from the workplace,” he said. He quickly regained his composure. “No, Dr.Wowryk, we chose not to monitor you for the same reason we chose not to monitor Mistress Laurette. You are, simply put, a high-profile person in the Matrian Outsourcing Component. “
He leaned forward.
“We’re not here to destroy the Matrians, Doctor,” he said, “We’re here to help them better themselves, which is far more noble than the reasons your Federation had for coming here,”
“We came here because they invited us!” Wowryk said.
“No, you came here to attack them, to bring them out of hibernation and to impose your social values onto them in their very vulnerable state,” P’tarek corrected calmly.
“They attacked us!” Wowryk snapped, “They kidnapped Simon and brainwashed ME!”
“Now that the Matrians are part of the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority, we can ensure that they find their way in the galaxy again,” P’tarek said, ignoring her outbursts, “It will happen, Doctor, with or without your help.”
“Then why am I important?” Wowryk asked.
P’tarek eyes her for a moment.
“You could make things…easier,” he said slowly, “Less painful for us, for yourself, and for the Matrians.”
“And how’s that, exactly?”
“Join the Qu’Eh,” P’tarek said, “Voluntarily. Become a Vice-President, and encourage the Matrian people to accept employment with the Qu’Eh.”
“And what do I get out of this?” Wowryk asked sceptically.
“A nice office down on Matria Prime,” P’tarek said, “Decent benefits. And control of the Matrian religion.”
Something inside Wowryk snapped. It wasn’t the sort of snap that she’d seen Stafford experience, with a sudden flash of rage, or the fake snap that Jall had performed for Yugreth. This was a cold snap, like a blizzard had just hit her core. It was a flash of cold certainty, mixed with determination.
P’tarek wasn’t just mildly interested in her cooperation. He wanted it badly. And he had the bizarre idea that she’d be willing to sell it. And he knew enough about her to make a tempting offer.
“I don’t think the Matrians will pay much attention to me,” she said, “I’m just an alien doctor to them,”
“Please,” P’tarek waved a hand, “We’ve been monitoring the Matrians very carefully for months. We know that you were instrumental in their reawakening and that their government used you almost as a symbol, unofficially of course, of how women could learn to tolerate men,” he laughed, “Tolerate men! If only they knew more about their own history, they’d realize just how absurd they’ve become,”
Wowryk leaned forward. This was stuff she hadn’t heard of before.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I’m sorry, that’s confidential company information,” P’tarek said, a gleam in his eye, “But I will say that we’ve taken control of all the library computer cores on the planet, and I can tell you that the Matrians have lost more information in the past two hundred years than even they are aware of,”
“But back to the topic at hand. You can accept employment with the Qu’Eh and work with us, on our terms. Or you can go back to that ship with those meddling aliens and live in a piece of worthless wreckage.”
“The Federation is coming,” Wowryk said coldly, “And they are TOTALLY going to get biblical on your ass!”
“Yes, I admit I’m a tad worried about that,” P’tarek said, “That’s why I left Manager Jall a little present.”
He tapped a button. A section of wall pivoted, revealing a large screen. An image appeared. It looked like the remains of Silverado’s shuttlebay, but it didn’t seem to be coming from a surveillance camera. The view bobbed and pivoted, and there was something blurry on one side.
Wowryk suddenly realized that she was looking at an image taken by Jall’s implant. (The caption ‘Jall, S, Manager 233812’, displayed on the lower corner of the screen, registered in her mind a moment later>) After taking a glance around the shuttlebay, Jall seemed to focus on a piece of Qu’Eh technology in front of him. It was the subspace transceiver he’d grabbed right before Wowryk had been beamed away.
“I left Manager Jall a little present,” P’tarek explained, looking somewhat smug, “Oh, I wouldn’t give him anything too powerful. But he’ll probably figure out in a moment or two that he can…yes, there he goes.
Wowryk watched as Jall initiated a command-line connection to the Matrian Sector communications relay, parked just outside Matrian space. The relay was powerful enough to connect to the Federation data and communications network.
Jall quickly logged in and did a message retrieval. Wowryk covered her mouth as her eyes took in the message. This was bad. And even worse, P’tarek knew exactly what kind of situation the Starfleet officers now found themselves in. And Jall was completely oblivious to that fact.
TO: USS SILVERADO, NCC-135060, MATRIAN SECTOR
FROM: ADMIRAL EDWARD TUNNEY, STARBASE 45, RAMSON SECTOR
SUBJECT: RE: REINFORCEMENTS
OPERATION SALVAGE VESSELS READY TO DEPART WAYSTATION HAVE BEEN DEEMED INADAQUATE TO COUNTER-ATTACK. FLEET ADMIRAL RA’AL REFUSES ADDITIONAL ASSETS.
SORRY PEOPLE, YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN FOR NOW. GOOD LUCK.
“I think Federation stock just took a bit of a dive, don’t you?” P’tarek smiled coldly.