Author: Brendan Chris
Invasion of Matria Prime +8 Days
Ensign Travis Pye had just finished getting his little area all setup. He’d snagged a corner of the chilly shuttlebay and proceeded to setup a cot, arranged his little bundle of salvaged cloths and even propped up a padd he’d managed to get his hands on, right where he could watch the two or three videos stored on it from the comfort of his cot. Around him, with much grumbling, the other captured crewmembers were doing the same. What else was there to do?
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks and Wowryk appeared right above Pye’s cot, falling about half a foot and knocking it on its side.
“What the-“ Wowryk managed to get out, right before falling to the deck.
“Oh my,” Supervisor Yugreth said into Pye’s ear, via his implant, “That is NOT proper transport quality!”
There was another shimmer, and a Qu’Eh datapad appeared directly over Pye’s head, catching him by surprise.
“Please have Dr. Wowryk fill this out,” Yugreth said, “I’ll send another for you, as well,”
“No, wait-“ Pye cringled, the second padd hitting his hands as they shielded his head.
He glanced at one padd as he handed the other to Wowryk.
“What’s this?” she asked, “‘Quality of Transport’ form?”
“Only your feedback can help us improve the quality of our service,” Yugreth said.
“What if I don’t want to improve the quality of your service?” Wowryk asked.
“Yeah!” Pye joined in, “What if we just don’t give a damn?”
“Then you can fill out a ‘Quality of Death and/or Maiming’ form,” Yugreth said sweetly.
Wowryk and Pye exchanged a glance.
“In a minute,” Wowryk said, running off to find Jall.
She found him easily enough…the shuttlebay really wasn’t that big. He was seated in the remains of the control booth, the Qu’Eh transceiver sitting on the blown-out tractor beam control console. Up here, the din of a hundred-odd crewmembers trying to setup living space in the bay was muted.
“I think I’m going to make this my office,” Jall mused, his eyes gazing out into the shuttlebay while his hands tapped at the Qu’Eh console, “I simply MUST do something about these bland colours though…maybe repaint with a nice mauve?”
Jall suddenly cocked his head, presumably listening to his implant.
“Hmm,” he said, “According to today’s supervisor, mauve doesn’t meet Qu’Eh interior design quality guidelines. Shows what they know about good taste,”
“Jall, the Qu’Eh know the fleet’s not coming,” Wowryk said.
“I know,” Jall said.
“YOU KNOW?” Wowryk snapped, “Then why the hell did you let them find out! This is bad! I can’t believe that we’d be abandoned like this!”
“I only found out because Yugreth started snickering in my ear when I read Tunney’s message,” Jall said. He snapped his fingers, “I wonder if there’s a quality form I can fill out on that? I mean, she sorta betrayed information to a captive, right?”
That time, Wowryk could hear the cursing coming from Jall’s implant as a quality form padd materialized on the console.
“Ohh, excellent!” Jall clapped his hands, then picked up the form. “Let’s see…Was she polite and courteous. Well, OK, I kinda gotta give her that. Informative? Yes. Helpful? Not really. Where’s the section on betraying company information? Oh, here it is. Zero out of five! Take that, bitch!”
“We have a problem!” Wowryk snapped, slapping the padd out of his hands. It skittered across the deck, “Everything we did was with the assumption that help was coming! Stafford, the-“
“The what, doctor?” Jall inturrpted.
Oh. Right. The super-secret underground Matrian installation that was currently serving as a hideout for the legitimate Matrian government and the non-captured Silverado crew. Mentioning that would be bad.
“We’ll figure something out, doc,” Jall said, “Now, why don’t you go spell-check the message I was about to send while I finish figuring out how to give Yugreth the worse possible quality score ever?”
Spell check? What was she, a glorified secretary?
“What are we telling the crew?” Wowryk demanded.
“Ohhh, there’s an interesting question, Madam First Officer,” Jall said slowly, “And just what do you think our little peons would say if we told them no help was coming? And before you answer, try to remember that you are, in fact, still my vile bitch of a First Officer.”
“Being a bitch isn’t against the Bible,” Wowryk sniffed, “Unlike YOU!”
“Actually, it is,” Jall said, picking up the Qu’Eh padd, “Something about ‘love they neighbour’?”
“Why do people always have to bring that part up?” Wowryk sighed.
Pushing past Jall’s obvious obnoxiousness, she stopped to consider his point, once again finding herself thinking in terms of motivation and strategy instead of simply using the ‘healing good, hurting bad’ mentality that usually kicked in during a crisis. They were alone, barely a hundred of them, in enemy-occupied territory, on a ship that couldn’t support them long-term and with no reinforcements on the way. How did that make her feel?”
“I don’t like thinking like a First Officer,” she said finally, taking a seat next to Jall.
“I’m guessing then that you’ve arrived at the same conclusion as I have,” he said.
He reached out to take her hand. She started to jerk it back, then remembered what he’d done earlier. Sure enough, he started writing on the back of her hand, drawing out letters with his fingertips.
<WE CAN’T AFFORD TO HAVE THE CREW LOSE FAITH. BESIDES, I THINK OUR CHANCES OF GETTING HELP ARE BETTER THAN P’TAREK AND THE REST OF THOSE BASTARDS THINK.> he wrote.
Her curiosity now piqued, Wowryk pulled the Qu’Eh transceiver over to spell-check Jall’s message. She saw immediately why he’d wanted help; it looked like he’d been typing it with his eyes closed. She glanced at his implant, remembering the camera. Of course, after Yugreth had given away the fact that she could see what he was seeing, he’d looked away from the screen. On the other hand, if the Qu’Eh had rigged the thing, they’d know what the message said anyway. On the other other hand, the seemed to prefer to rely on the damned implants…
She quickly read the message. Not surprisingly, it was a request for help. Somewhat more surprising was the destination address.
“Are you sure you want to send this?” she asked, “I can’t see how anybody can help us if the Fleet Admiral’s made up her mind already,”
“Just send it,” Jall said, “And have a bit of faith in me,”
Lieutenant Rengs and Ensign Simmons lay pressed flat against a cold, brick wall, panting for breath.
After the beer-fight escape, the thousand or so Matrian soldiers held captive had been intent on one thing: scattering as fast and as far as possible before the Qu’Eh could react. Stern and Glotenfish had come up with a plan prior to the escape. Basically, everybody would split up, but certain people would try meeting at pre-arranged places and times in order to keep information moving. It was a hastily setup system, but hopefully they could do…something.
Of course, that wasn’t doing Rengs or Simmons much good at the moment. The two officers had been cut off from the rest of the Hazardous Team when a group of Qu’Eh soldiers patrolling the streets has spotted them. Being unarmed (except for a couple of beer cups), they’d simply scattered, running down streets and through the lobbies of nearby buildings. Being near the outskirts of Matronus, the neighbourhood consisted of lots of smaller buildings, giving them plenty of alleys to get lost in, but really nowhere to go. The ultimate plan was to rendez-vouz near downtown Matronus, in the vast underground cavern that had held the city’s female population during the rebuilding.
At the moment though, the gleaming towers of downtown Matronus seemed very far away.
“I really wish I had a grenade right now?” Simmons whined.
“And what by the Prophets would you do with it?” Rengs asked, annoyed.
“Blow something up, what do you think!?”
Ignoring him, Rengs carefully looked out onto the street. There was no sign of the Qu’Eh patrol that had been pursuing them. They were in a fairly nice neighbourhood, with the standard collection of homes and businesses. More businesses at this point, actually.
“We need to ditch these uniforms,” Rengs said.
“No problem,” Simmons shrugged, “there’s a clothing store across the street,”
“Didn’t you learn ANYTHING in Undercover Ops 101?” Rengs demanded, “We can’t just walk into a store, in uniform, without money, and ask them to outfit-“
“Um, excuse me?”
Both Rengs and Simmons spun around, coming face to face with a short, slender Matrian male.
“Uh-oh,” Simmons muttered, again wishing he had a grenade.
“Um, my boss says that you guys can’t keep hiding in the alley in those uniforms,” the Matrian said, pointing his thumb over towards the clothing store, “We can fix you up…maybe give you place to hide for a bit?”
“Undercover Ops 101, my ass!” Simmons laughed, heading towards the store. Rengs, sensing a headache on the way, followed.
“Mistress Laurette, finest quality to you! What a pleasant surprise it is to see you!” Chairman P’tarek practically gushed, standing and coming around his desk to take her hand, “I’m so pleased you could take the time to-“
“You ordered me up here,” Laurette snapped, “Armed guards came to my office and hauled me away, right in front of my staff!”
“You know what, my dear? I need to get you enrolled in a Friendly Banter workshop!” He started tapping at his computer, “Hmm, Learning Specialist Frant has one running next week! Frant really is top-quality, his slide show presentations are to DIE for!”
“I DON’T NEED FRIENDLY BANTER!” Laurette snapped.
“Oh, yes you do,” P’tarek said seriously, “Your workplace attitude is an important part of your quarterly performance assessment. You wouldn’t want to get fired, would you?”
“Fired? From the Qu’Eh?” Laurette considered. Hmmm, there was an interesting possibility. Maybe she could get the whole planet fired, then the Qu’Eh would just go away and leave them along.
“Fired,” P’tarek clarified, “Out an airlock. Into the sun.”
Laurette forced a pleasant smile onto her face, then took her seat.
“Finest quality, Mr. Chairman,” she said sweetly, adapting the traditional Qu’Eh greeting, “How may I help you today?”
“Was that so hard?” P’tarek smiled, “Assistant, some swieglis, please,”
Another Qu’Eh brought in some sort of warm beverage.
“Now, as you know, there has been a major breakout from one of our recruitment centers,” P’tarek said.
<Detention centers>, Laurette mentally translated, sipping the unpleasantly bland drink.
“Several of our prospective employees departed before they could accept employment offers,”
<Matrian soldiers escaped before we could stick implants into their skulls>
“They attack our guards with…beer,”
<Sweet. Wish I’d been there.>
“Now, I expect you to have them rounded up immediately. Alive would be nice. Dead would be better,”
<What the sisin??>
“Er, I beg your pardon?” Laurette asked.
“My own forces are too busy trying to hunt down Queen Anselia and Minister Stafford,” P’tarek explained, “So we’re going to need our new Matrian employees to handle this one. And as these malcontents have made it clear that they are not interested in employment, they are of no particular use to us,”
“You want us to hunt down our own people!” Laurette said, “We can’t-“
“You will,” P’tarek cut her off coldly, “I have an organization to run here, Mistress, and I simply must have all departments operating at peak quality. This is an opportunity for you and the Matrian people to demonstrate that you can, in fact, improve yourselves. If you fail, I may simply need to…downsize.”
<Uh-oh. I don’t like the sound of that.>
“By which, of course, I mean I will have to reduce your population to something a bit more manageable.”
<One day, old man, I will rip your testicles out through your throat!>
“I understand, Mr. Chairman,” Laurette said pleasantly.
Rengs and Simmons were now dressed in Matrian casual ware, their borrowed Matrian Defence Force uniforms vaporized in a matter reclamator. They were seated in the back of a ground vehicle as their two benefactors took them ‘home.’ Trant, the male who had approached them in the alley, was driving. His wife, Giri, sat in the passenger seat and spoke with the two Starfleeters. They’d recognized them as aliens fairly easily, what with the ridges on Rengs’ nose.
“Most people are just carrying on like nothing’s changed,” Giri said, “The biggest change is that now we have to fill out a quality form for EVERYTHING! I had to fill out a form on my breakfast this morning, Trant had to fill out a quality form when he pleasured himself last night,”
Trant blushed. Simmons snickered.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Giri said, “But it might be relevant. Oh, and they’ve started ‘hiring’ people. Not very many, mostly MDF personnel. But I heard my hairstylist say yesterday that her sister had been hired as an Agent, and was going to be working at a new Qu’Eh facility that’s being built outside the city.
“Does she know what kind of facility?” Rengs asked.
“Not exactly. But the Qu’Eh have been advertising for workers. I already have a job,” Giri sighed, “And with all that’s happened in the past two years, I don’t need yet another change,”
“What did you do before you all woke up?” Rengs asked, suddenly curious.
“I was a reconstructor,” Trant said, his face turning a bit sour, “I specialized in installing and repairing power distribution networks in the cities,”
“I, er, specialized in clothing design in Dreamland,” Giri said, looking embarrassed.
“I thought everybody just imagined whatever they wanted in that virtual reality thingy,” Simmons said, “Why would anybody need a clothing designer?”
“Some people have dreadful imaginations,” Giri said.
They’d reached their destination: a towering building with gleaming windows and purplish-blue stone walls. Trant parked the vehicle, and they approached the lobby.
“I’m not sure what I did before Dreamland,” Giri said, “It’s all so blurry, and so long ago. I think I sold paint.”
“I guess you don’t remember much about your family,” Rengs said, thinking of his own wife and son, safe in the Matrian desert.
“Oh, my sisters and Aunts were in Dreamland with me,” Giri said, “But no, I don’t remember my father, or my brothers,”
“I didn’t have a family,” Trant said flatly, “I was cloned, in a lab, and flash-educated for reconstruction work,”
“Now, sweetie, let’s not quarrel over this…again.”
Rengs frowned as the couple took up them up a lift and into their spacious, high- ceilinged apartment. Trant was obviously still bitter about what had been done to him by the women. How many other men felt that way? Of course, he’d heard that there had been problems still between the men and women on Matria Prime, but so far as he’d known, they were all trying to make their civilization work.
“Soo, how long had you two been married?” he asked.
“Three months,” Trant answered, giving a small smile, “After I stopped calling her a bitch every time she called.”
“And after he knocked me up,” Giri shot back, massaging her stomach.
“Er, congratulations?” Rengs offered.
“It’s OK, I was an accident too,” Simmons said reassuringly.
Rengs tucked that piece of information away for when they found the rest of the HT.
“Oh, it wasn’t an accident,” Giri said, taking Trant by the arm, “It’s just…there aren’t very many young people on Matria. Decades of suspended hibernation, war, all of that. We all need to work on building up the numbers. I understand your Captain was doing his part. You know, I have some friends who are wanting to become mothers, if you two are interested,”
“I already have a child,” Rengs said. Here was ANOTHER interesting tidbit to file away.
Simmons was looking temped. Rengs elbowed him in the ribs.
“Er, maybe another time,” he said.
“We need to meet up with the rest of our team,” Rengs said, “Do you know how we can get into the caverns under the city?”
“Oh, can I use your kitchen for a minute?” Simmons interrupted.
“This way, please,” Trant stood, “That would be my domain,”
“The cavern was sealed up after the reawakening,” Giri said, as the other two went into the other room, “Most of us really don’t know much about it. But I do know that when we first came out, we were in the underground transit system.”
Which made sense, Rengs mused. There were millions upon millions of stasis pods underground in the various cities, and it would have taken ages to ferry everybody up the single lift that led directly into the heart of the cavern. There were probably tunnels snaking out all over Matronus. If the entranceways had been sealed, they would need some way to…
“OK, we’re ready!” Simmons said happily. He’d returned to the living room carrying a food-storage container filled with…something.
“He made a mess,” Trant whined.
“I made a bomb!” Simmons said happily.
“You made a bomb out of stuff in their kitchen?” Rengs asked.
“Yeah! People used to do it all the time! What did they call them…chemical engineering students?”
“Terrorists.” Rengs said flatly, thinking back to the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor.
Rengs turned to the Matrian couple, “Thank you so much, for everything.”
“Anything to get rid of these Qu’Eh bastards and their endless reams of quality paperwork,” Giri said, “Just be careful…Admiral Verethi was on the news a while ago, warning that MDF forces would be searching for escapees.”
As the two Starfleet officers rode the lift down to the ground floor, Simmons turned to Rengs.
“I didn’t think that Verethi bitch would be the kind to turn on her own people like that,” he said.
Rengs smacked him upside the head.
“If she really wanted us caught, do you think she’d go on the planetary news and announce that she was looking for us?”
“Ohhh, good point. But Rengs?”
“Don’t smack me when I’m handling volatile explosives, OK?”
Qu’Eh Invasion, +10 Days:
Commander Jall was seated in his ‘office’, formerly the control booth for Shuttlebay 1. On the repaired display in front of him, he could see wobbly footage from the imaging unit he’d sent with Lieutenant Sage and his team.
Over the past few days the Silverado crew had fallen into a new routine: get up, eat disgusting Qu’Eh food rations, work on the ship all day, eat more disgusting Qu’Eh food, then fall back exhausted into their cots. Jall, despite knowing that he could never hand the Qu’Eh a functional Starfleet vessel, actually found the system was working to his benefit: The crew wasn’t questioning his orders to comply with the Qu’eh, assuming that he planned on fighting with the Federation fleet when it arrived. Of course, they didn’t know yet that the fleet was…detained. On top of that, the odds of them being able to repair the ship in anything less than a matter of years was next to nothing.
The biggest advantage, however, was that the crew was too exhausted to cause any problems for him. Granted, they couldn’t exactly cause problems for the Qu’Eh, but he was still working on that one.
“OK, can you see what we mean?” Sage’s voice came over the radio.
“No,” Jall said flatly. The screen was showing an image of Impulse Engineering. The blown-out panels had been replaced and emergency lighting had been restored. Unfortunately, there was no power supply or data network to connect the panels to. Through the large transparent aluminum window he could see Silverado’s half-dozen or so impulse reactors. One of Sage’s crewmen, clad in an environmental suit, drifted by. Life-support and gravity were still confined to the shuttlebay, running off Qu’Eh portable units.
“Wait, is that deuterium residue?” he asked, squinting at the display.
“Yeah, one of the conduits ruptured in the absolute cold,” Sages said, “We cleaned up most of the mess, but…”
“But you didn’t get it all,” Jall sighed, “OK, take what crewmen you need and get a scrubbing detail out there. We can’t restart the reactors with volatile fuel all over the walls.”
“Um, that’s gonna hit our quality score, isn’t it?”
Jall actually pulled out some of his hair.
“Yes, yes it will,” he said through clenched teeth, “Jall out.”
Turning to the massive, massive pile of paperwork on his desk, Jall started hunting for the daily quality summary. As soon as he got back to Federation space, he was having ‘excessive paperwork’ added to the list of tortures from which prisoners-of-war were to be protected from.
Of course, that would probably land most of the Federation bureaucracy in jail.
“Manager Jall,” a Qu’Eh voice came into his ear, “Your summary of the daily food quality feedback forms was due five seconds ago,”
“OK, OK,” Jall snapped. He didn’t ever bother looking for the specified paperwork, “The food sucked. Your food ALWAYS sucks. And we gave you a detailed report on why and how to improve it four days ago!”
“And your feedback, as always, has been compiled and will be used to improve our quality of service,” the voice said, “However, we still require your daily feedback for improvement.”
“Your food hasn’t changed. Neither has our feedback,” Jall snarled.
“Your daily feedback is required,” the voice said. Jall could feel a dull ache next to his implant, a sign that somebody was playing with its pain & punishment functions.
“OK, OK,” he said, slamming his fist onto his desk.
“Most excellent,” the voice said, “And while you’re at it, I need the daily waste extraction quality feedback. Size, colour, frequency and so forth.”
Down in the shuttlebay, Crewman Goresrope and Crewman Emna were using the Qu’Eh parts replicator to fill the requisitions coming in from repair teams.
“The Commander sure looks happy,” Goresrope said, nodding towards the control booth, “He’s dancing again!”
Emna looked up. She didn’t think Commander Jall was dancing.
“It looks more like he’s throwing a fit,” she said, “And breaking things.”
“Sucks to be him,” Goresrope chuckled.
One of Jall’s hands suddenly went to his implant as his entire body started spasming, as if shocked. He fell to the floor and vanished from view.
“Yeah,” Emna gulped, again thanking the deities that only officers had been ‘hired’, so far, “Sucks to be him,”
Under the streets of Matronus, Rengs and Simmons were creeping carefully down a maintenance route that ran parallel to one of Matronus’ underground transit lines. Daytime travel had proven too risky, with workers, travellers and MDF search teams flooding the transit lines. Night, however, was more manageable.
It had taken a day just to get into the vicinity of downtown Matronus, causing them to miss the originally planned rendezvous with the rest of the HT, assuming they’d escaped successfully. Several days had then been spent wandering the transit system, searching for some sign of the others. After two days, they’d started leaving their own signs: small groups of Bajoran, Klingon and Barudan symbols carved into unobtrusive locations, giving the time and place for a possible rendezvous. Hopefully, the Qu’Eh didn’t understand those languages.
Simmons had also left several messages of his own, using his limited Matrian vocabulary. Rengs didn’t think scrawling Matrian profanity on the walls was particularly constructive, but it kept Simmons busy. And the busier he was, the less obnoxious he was. Sadly, his graffiti wasn’t doing quite enough to keep him completely busy; it felt like Rengs had spent half of their time together explaining to Simmons why he couldn’t pee on the third transit rail.
Finally, the appointed time was approaching. They’d returned to a point they’d found earlier: a section of wall that was suspiciously newer than the surrounding vicinity. The gleaming tiles had clearly been installed recently, as the rest of the centuries-old transit system was somewhat showing its age. It was in excellent condition, yes, especially after decades of effort by enslaved men, but no matter how well you clean and repair a wall, it never looks truly brand-new again.
Rengs was certain that it was an entrance to the underground cavern beneath Matronus. Or at least to a tunnel system connecting to said cavern.
Simmons suddenly grabbed Rengs’ arm. Footsteps were approaching and, despite several efforts, they were still unarmed. Trying to look nonchalant (and trying to cover his nose ridges), Rengs leaned against the wall.
“I guess you guy’s really WEREN’T paying any attention during our last undercover workshop,” Stern’s voice came.
“Oh thank the Prophets!” Rengs exclaimed, seizing Stern in a quick hug, then turning and clasping forearms with Dar-ugal.
“Um, hi,” Stern said, “You place or mine?”
Rengs gave him a dirty look.
“If YOU’D spend the past several days with only Simmons for company, wouldn’t you be happy to see another familiar face?”
“Ohhh, good point.”
Soon enough, they were joined by Marsden and Kreklor.
“Didn’t any of the Matrians make it out?” Rengs asked.
“We had a scheduled rendezvous with Captain Glotenfish yesterday,” Stern said, “He didn’t show up,”
“Uh-oh,” Marsden muttered.
“Uh-oh is right,” Stern said, “We’re going to have to be very, very careful with any other planned meetings with the escapees.”
“Are we sure going into this cavern is still such a good idea?” Rengs asked.
“The Matrians might suck royally when it comes to escape and evasion, but they know to keep their mouths shut. And from what we’ve heard so far, the Qu’Eh aren’t torturing people for information.”
“But they’re still torturing them with constant and annoying comm calls, surveys and feedback forms,” Marsden said, “That’s another thing we’ve learned.”
“And they’re building something outside the city,” Rengs added.
“We’ll worry about that later,” Stern said, “For now, we need a base of operations and some supplies. Now, does anybody know how to open this wall?”
Simmons grinned maniacally.
“We can’t blow it up,” Stern said, “We have to close it when we’re done,”
“AWWWWWWWWW!!!!” Simmons whined, “But I built the bomb and everything!”
“What other options do we have?” Kreklor said, crouching slightly, like he was about to head-butt the wall.
“I brought spoons,” Stern shrugged.
The rest of the HT glared at him.
Stern sighed. He took a look around, then abruptly jammed a spoon into a non-descript spot. There was a sizzle of sparks, then the tiled wall abruptly slid down, revealing a door.
The hostile glares turned to looks of amazement.
“I asked Glotenfish about possible ways into the tunnels before we left,” Stern shrugged. He gestured for Masden to get to work on the door.
“If you already knew how to open the wall, why did you ask us?” Rengs asked.
“I was just wondering if anybody else had been paying attention to Glotenfish,” Stern shrugged again.
Mistress Laurette strode through the corridor of the Quality Re-Evaluation Center, formerly the main prison of Matronus. Matria Prime didn’t have much need for a prison; like any advanced culture the Matrians had a very low crime rate when it came down to it. No rapes, almost no murder, theft was practically unheard of, and assaults rarely were anything other than a petty squabble that led to a bloody nose. Of course, there was that whole nasty civil war thing, but that was somewhat different. Still, when she’d overseen the planning of the rebuilt cities during her time in Dreamland, she’d apparently included a fully functional prison system. At the time, she’d been planning on being the dictator of an empire spanning whole star systems. Prisons were just part of the ensemble.
In any event, the Qu’Eh had moved right on in and were using the Matrian prisons to hold and interrogate prisoners. Or, in their words, to ‘re-evaluate the working relationships between themselves and disgruntled employees’. After the break-out from the sports arena a few days earlier, the prison in Matronus had been filling steadily, despite her secret hope that most of the escaped troops would evade the patrols.
Unlike the Qu’Eh, Laurette knew perfectly well that several Starfleet officers had been held at that arena. And she likewise knew that none of them had been caught, yet.
She entered the interrogation room. Captain Glotenfish was seated at the small, steel table. A Qu’Eh implant had been affixed to his skull, and he was dressed in bright red prison garb. Two Qu’Eh guards were standing next to the door.
“I will take care of this myself,” she said, gesturing imperiously for them to leave.
“Sorry, Site Director,” one guard said, “We are to supervise all quality reviews,”
Laurette pressed her lips together. This was not a surprise. It just meant that she’d have to play rougher with Glotenfish than she would have liked. Oh well, he was just a man.
She sat across from him.
“Traitoress!” he spat.
“Captain Glotenfish,” Laurette said, ignoring his outburst, “You recently escaped, as did many prisoners,”
“Potential employees,” one of the guards corrected her.
“Loyal Matrian soldiers,” Glotenfish snapped, “Loyal to Queen Anselia and the proper Matrian government!”
Oh boy. How was she going to explain this with two Qu’Eh listening in?
“Queen Anselia is…in exile,” Laurette said carefully, “As such, I have assumed the position of leadership. I’m sure you understand that as the Leader of the Opposition, such a right is mine,”
Glotenfish said nothing, merely glaring at her.
“Did you remember Dreamland, Captain?” she asked carefully, “And the time during the rebuilding?”
“You mean the Dark Age? I remember thinking that the females there were the most glorious beings in existence,” he spat, “A feeling programmed into me!”
“Yes,” Laurette acknowledged, “We took many steps to help us prepare the Matrian Empire for expansion, and eventual domination over this part of the galaxy. Including the use to which we put our men.” She leaned forward on the table, dropping her voice to a hiss, “And do you think we’d want to put that much effort into building up an empire, only to let these slimy bean-counters move right in?”
“I have hundreds of soldiers in this prison that would question your motives,” Glotenfish said.
“And I have billions of people who would rather be alive than dead,” Laurette snapped, starting to lose her patience, “Don’t you think a few hundred is worth that?”
She could see him wavering. She didn’t know if her argument was getting through to him, or if it was a bit of leftover influence from the M-SIDS, but he wasn’t staring at her with the same hostility as before.
“There was a certain group of…soldiers at that facility,” Laurette said, making sure Glotenfish saw her eyes move carefully towards the Qu’Eh, in warning.
Glotenfish definitely caught that. What was she trying to tell him? Clearly she was talking about the Starfleet aliens. But why didn’t she come right out and say it, if she working with the Qu’Eh. Surely the Qu’Eh would be very interested in getting their hands on the Starfleeters…if they’d known they were there. He’d been very uncomfortable with the idea of letting aliens wear the uniform of the Matrian Defence Force…but that deception now left an entire Starfleet Security Team free in Qu’Eh occupied Matronus…a security team that had done substantial damage to Matrian forces when the two groups were fighting on opposite sides.
“There aren’t many places to hide in Matronus,” he said carefully, glancing at the Qu’Eh guards and hoping she saw it, “We learned that during the female hibernation,”
“I see,” Laurette said. She continued asking questions, and to ‘interrogate’ the captive male, but she’d learned what she needed. The Starfleeters were heading for the underground caverns. Of course, she’d pretty much figured that out herself, and those caverns were huge. Glotenfish probably didn’t see telling her that as much of a risk.
However, it meant that she had some calls to make. Her attempts to ferment rebellion against Anselia were about to come in useful against another enemy.
“This is creepy,” Simmons said softly.
“It’s a cave.” Rengs replied. “We’ve been in caves before. It’s nothing special.”
“It’s not the cave,” Simmons replied back, “It’s the…things…in it…”
Rengs had to admit, he had a point. After following the tunnel down from the transit system they’d found themselves in a huge, dome-shaped cavern deep under Matronus. Very deep. Heck, they’d been following the downward sloping tunnel long enough that Stern was getting worried about coming out on the far side of the planet!
As soon as the tunnel had opened up in to the cavern, they’d found themselves surrounded by machinery and equipment. Stasis pods, open and empty, lined every surface. Life support equipment, monitoring equipment and various control cables flowed into each pod, giving each the appearance of a dark, mechanical spider, just waiting to envelop innocent bystanders.
“I wonder how long it took to build this place,” Marsden wondered, “I mean, this cavern held the population of the entire city,”
“Half the population,” Stern corrected.
“And they have identical caverns under all the other cities, all across the planet,” Marsden went on.
“Underground construction is nothing new,” Rengs said, “It’s one of the easiest ways to increase your living space without destroying the environments on the planet’s surface,”
“Plus, they were at war,” Stern added, “Bunkers are usually popular.”
They walked past a darkened control panel. Nearby, an empty bracket hung from a support strut, disconnected cables hanging limply. Beneath it, the shattered remains of a Matrian SID lay crumpled on the floor.
“But why would they put so much effort into building these caverns and setting up all this equipment?” Marsden wanted to know, “Their men spent decades restoring the cities, building new ships and putting together an army. If they’d just concentrated on restoration to begin with, instead of building these caverns, they could have been done in a fraction of the time!”
“These caverns were more than just a pit-stop,” Stern mused, “As long as the men were working, the women had virtual immortality, as long as they stayed hooked up to Dreamland.”
“That’s cold of them,” Simmons said, shining his light around and shrinking back from another stasis pod.
“I don’t think most of the Matrians realized just how long-term their stay in these pods was meant to be,” Stern continued.
“Maybe not,” Marsden agreed.
Suddenly, the silence of the cavern was broken with a loud hiss. In the distance, the Hazardous Team could see a point of light, moving down from the cavern ceiling towards the floor.
“Somebody’s coming,” Stern hissed, “Lights out, we’re going stealth here,”
“Matrians?” someone wondered.
“That light is the lift, the main surface access to the cavern control center,” Stern said, “It was in Noonan’s briefing notes.”
“Which means we probably have Qu’Eh company.” Rengs said grimly.
Stern considered a moment.
“Rengs, you and I will go see what they’re doing here. The rest of you, head back to that side-passage we found a while back and start setting up camp.”
They split up.
Moving in the dim light, Stern and Rengs hurried as silently as they could towards the center of the cavern. They were still some distance away when the point of light, now visible as a glass-walled elevator, slid into the dome-shaped control structure. Trying to stay out of sight of the black entranceways, they slowed, then crept alongside the building.
“So, this is the Matrian’s deep, dark secret?” a voice, slightly sibilant, commented.
“It is, Chairman.” Another voice responded, “It took some time to pinpoint the entrance, but this is definitely it,”
“Hmm. Assistant, pull another search of our database. Did our ancestors have any records of Matrian constructions similar to this?”
Stern and Rengs could see the figure now. They recognized Chairman P’tarek from their pre-battle briefing. Was that only a couple of weeks ago? It felt like so much more…
“Very well,” he said, evidently speaking into his headset, “And there was nothing new in the Matrian data library?”
“That data source is known to be corrupted, Chairman,” the other Qu’Eh said, bowing slightly. More Qu’Eh troops were filing out behind them, forming a protective screen around the Chairman.
“Yes, we’ve already suitably detracted from the Matrian’s quality score for that little mess,” P’tarek sighed, “Still, it would be nice to know why the Matrians suddenly became so interested in building things underground?”
“It is an excellent way to expand one’s population without stressing the surface resources of one’s planet, Chairman,”
Stern and Rengs exchanged a glance.
“Yes, but by our records, the Matrians had other ways of making space,” P’Tarek sighed again, “Pity they blew it up.”
Stern frowned. They must be talking about the wreckage of that orbital habitat that had been orbiting Matria when they’d arrived. The wreckage that had been accidently destroyed by a stray Qu’Eh torpedo.
Or was the destruction accidental? Stern suddenly had his doubts.
“Very well,” P’Tarek sighed, evidently becoming bored, “Let us see if what we want is down here.”
“According to the Matrian data library, they destroyed all traces of that technology after the re-awakening.” P’Tarek’s guard/companion/lowly peon said.
“And that library is corrupt.” P’Tarek said sharply, “Do you think I would come down here personally if I did not think this very important?”
Stern suddenly cursed himself for not having a weapon. One shot now and he could take out the Qu’Eh’s commander in Matrian space. If they weren’t so badly outnumbered, he would have strongly considered taking him out by hand, but against all those armed troops? Not going to happen. Too bad he hadn’t brought Simmons and his bomb.
The Qu’Eh were moving down one of the narrow passageways between the stasis pods now, waving scanning devices around. One pointed at the remains of another M-SID, this one appearing to have been destroyed by a blast from an energy weapon.
“This is one of the devices,” he said, “But its components have been completely fused.”
“I have located another,” somebody else called, “Completely melted,”
“What are they looking for?” Rengs asked quietly.
“What else would a group of aliens who want to control the actions of others be looking for in Matrian space?” Stern said grimly, the pieces suddenly falling into place, “How better can you ensure that somebody has the same dedication to ‘quality’ as you do then to program that right into their consciousness?”
“The Qu’Eh invaded Matria Prime for the M-SIDs?” Rengs’ eye widened.
Stern gestured for Rengs to follow him back towards the rest of the HT.
“It makes perfect sense!” Marsden said, once Stern and Rengs had rejoined the others, “I mean, it’s been that way with Quality Assurance organizations for centuries! It’s hard enough to get everybody to share your dedication to ‘quality’, but actually getting everybody to agree on what constitutes quality? That’s all but impossible! A device that allows them to alter somebody’s personality…that must be like the holy grail to them!”
“That’s why they seized the Matrian library database,” Stern nodded, “And why they wanted to capture, not destroy, the Matrian ships. But the Matrians erased all their SID research…they didn’t want anybody trying this whole mess again!”
“But they sent out dozens of them!” Rengs objected, “That’s what brought us here in the first place!”
“I guess the Qu’Eh just weren’t on the delivery list,” Stern shrugged.
“Or else those ones didn’t have the mind-control functions,” Marsden pointed out, “Ours was only able to influence the personalities of a couple of people, remember? Anything else required Dr. Wowryk and her…um…special outlook on things.”
They watched as in the distance the Qu’Eh boarded the lift and began returning to the surface, having evidently found nothing but the ruined remains of the devices they wanted.
“What do we do now?” Simmons wondered.
“Now?” Stern shrugged, “We wait. We find the Matrian resistance, if there is one. And then we start causing…problems…”
“Ohhh,” Simmons giggled, running his hands lovingly over the bomb he’d built, “I like this plan!”
Qu’Eh invasion +15 Days:
“OK, people, what fabulous news do you have for me today?” Jall asked tiredly, facing what currently passed for Silverado’s senior staff as they crowded into the shuttlebay control booth.
Before anybody could reply, Supervisor Neum’s voice sounded in their implants.
“No friendly banter before the meeting?” she asked, sounding like a kindergarten teacher, “No warm beverages to greet your staff? And your tone…so tired, and dry! Let’s try that again!”
“Sweetie,” Jall said firmly, “If you want to find something tired and dry, why don’t you take a look between your le-YEOWUTCH!”
Sage, Pye, Day, Wowryk, Bith and Quintaine waited patiently for Jall to recover from the rather powerful blast of pain his implant had just subjected him to.
“Hi everybody!” Jall said loudly, plastering a wide smile on his face, “How are you today? Day, how are the kids? Pye, I trust your Matrian language study is going well?”
Everybody sat in a sort of uncomfortable silence. Suddenly, Day jolted, on hand going to his implant.
“The, er, kids, are just fine,” he said, his face nearly splitting from the smile.
“And I just finished basic verb conjugation,” Pye said quickly, cringing and hoping he’d been quick enough to avoid a similar zap.
Wowryk, who was still free of the damned implants, felt a cold chill run up her spine. This was just wrong! Members of the crew were spasming in pain, then forcing pleasantries through tight smiles. The words were polite, courteous, and on paper would have been a reflection of a respectful group of professionals. In person, in this horribly dark parody of a typical Silverado briefing, it was just…twisted.
“OK, people,” Neum said, though Wowryk couldn’t hear it, “That’s enough FB for now. And if you don’t do better at this afternoon’s meeting, your quality score is going to drop two points! Continue!”
“All right then,” Jall said, his voice dropping back down to it’s previous level, his knuckles white as he gripped the arms of his chair, “Progress?”
“You mean since our last mandatory meeting, about nine hours ago, right before we all turned in for the night?” Sage asked.
“That would be the one,” Jall sighed.
“No progress, then,” Sage said, “Except I think the portable showers the Qu’Eh installed smell like ass,”
“No progress,” Pye jumped in, “And I agree,”
Jall looked around.
“OK then, no progress. Meeting adjourned,”
They turned to leave, only to be stopped by Neum’s voice.
“Whoah, people!” she cried, “You can’t leave now! No progress has been reported!”
“There is none,” Jall snapped, “We haven’t had the chance to do anything since the last meeting!”
“You cannot have a meeting without progress!” Neum snapped, “You should know this by now! Now, report your progress immediately, or we’re going to be here all day!”
Jall slammed a padd to the deck, taking a great deal of pleasure in watching the screen shatter.
“I progressed in generating more available waste for the matter reclamation systems,” he snarled.
“Very good!” Neum said cheerfully, “You may go,”
The rest of the staff trudged out, off to their daily repair details. The sad part was, by the time the mandatory afternoon meeting rolled around, they still wouldn’t have much in the way of progress to report. After nearly ten days aboard the crippled ship, they’d manage to re-activate the impulse reactors and replace some of the damaged components. Unfortunately, with less than a hundred people working on the task, they were still a long way from restoring even basic life-support. All the power conduits were completely fried, as were the data networks that would actually operate everything. On top of that, the Qu’Eh parts replicator could only do so much.
On the flip side, with the current conditions it wasn’t hard to hide some of the progress they had been making, so long as only non-implanted crewmen worked on it.
Jall had come to a conclusion: Whoever was going to oppose the Qu’Eh, it wasn’t going to be one of them. Without access to Sickbay, Wowryk couldn’t figure out how to remove the implants. Even if she could, where would they go? The Qu’Eh would realize the instant an implant was removed. So long as they were completely dependant on the Qu’Eh for food, water and supplies, they were all but helpless.
But that didn’t mean they had zero options. And now, it was time to put what passed for his pathetic idea of a plan into motion.
“It’s been what, over two weeks since the Qu’Eh invaded, huh?” he said to Wowryk, before she could leave the ‘meeting’.
“Something like that,” she muttered, “Personally, I’m counting the days until they leave,”
“Yeah, too bad we don’t know when that is,” Jall stood and stretched the kinks out of his frame, “C’mon, doc. I dunno about you, but I need to get out of this shuttle bay for a few minutes,”
“Yes, and we’re going where, exactly?”
As it turned out, they were going for a walk down the corridor. Of course, they’d had to suit up in environmental suits first, as any part of Silverado outside of the shuttlebay had no oxygen, no heat and no gravity. As they pulled themselves down the corridor, lit only by their helmet lights, Wowryk was somewhat pleased to see that cosmetically, the corridors near the shuttlebay had been repaired.
“Where are we going?” she asked again, her voice crackling through the helmet radio.
“Do you remember, doc, before the battle?” Jall replied, “We were talking about how important symbols were?”
“Yeah,” she muttered, “Fat lot of good the grand symbol of Matria did. Pride cometh before the fall, apparently.”
She clearly remembered, after being appointed as Jall’s First Officer, how he had said to her that the Matrians held her in very high esteem, and how her behaviour in Dreamland had made a lasting impression on them, an impression that Jall apparently believed could help motivate the Matrians in some way.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that,” Jall continued.
“Good for you,” Wowryk sighed.
“And I really don’t think we need a symbol up here that badly,” he said. With that, he grabbed Wowryk by shoulders and shoved her into an open hatchway.
“Manager Jall!” Neum’s voice cried out, “What are you doing?”
Wowryk gave a surprised squeal as she found herself tumbling into a small, cubic space. Behind her, the hatch clanged shut. A lifeboat!
“We’re finished up here, doc!” Jall shouted, his voice now tinged with pain as his implant kicked in, “The Matrians need a symbol more than we do!”
“Wha?” Wowryk tried desperately to regain her equilibrium. Jall screamed as his implant pulsed to full power.
“Find the Matrian Resistance!” he forced out, “You’re more good to them on the planet now than you are up here!”
In the corridor, out of Wowryk’s view, Jall slammed his hand down on the emergency release for the lifeboat. The power in the self-contained pod snapped on, the artificial gravity dropping Wowryk into one of the seats just before the pod blasted free of the ship.
Wowryk’s eyes widened as she peered out the viewport, Matria Prime growing larger at an almost exponential rate.
“JALL!” she shrieked, “I WILL NOT BE PUSHED AROUND LIKE THIS! YOU BRING THIS POD BACK IMMEDIATELY!”
But there was no answer.
Aboard Silverado, Jall felt the pain in his implant fade just in time for the familiar tingle of a transporter beam to kick in. The next thing he knew, he was lying on the deck of what could only be one of the Qu’Eh ships.
“Manager Jall,” it was Supervisor Neum’s voice, however this time it wasn’t coming through an implant, “We are most disappointed with your performance.”
Jall pulled himself to his feet. The room he was in was long and rectangular, with rows upon rows of workstations filling the available space. Each station had a single Qu’Eh with an implant facing several screens. The screens he could glimpse showed a variety of settings: inside Silverado, inside various Matrian ships, Qu’Eh ships, and even a few shots that he realized must be coming from the planet. Supervisor Neum had left her post and now approached Jall.
“Unauthorized transfer of materials,” she said, “Unauthorized transfer of personnel! And you didn’t even have Dr. Wowryk complete an exit quality form!”
“Unable to get a sensor lock on the pod,” one of the Qu’Eh nearby reported, “Something’s jamming the signal.”
“Just a little something we managed to put together,” Jall said smugly.
“2 quality points for one successful escape,” she said finally.
“You, however,” she shook her head, “Clearly, you are not a good fit for the Qu’Eh Corporate Authority.”
“Good,” Jall smiled, “I guess I’ll just be going now,”
“No,” Neum shook her head, then gestured. A pair of burly Qu’Eh were suddenly grasping his arms. “You may not be a good fit for us now, but I promise that by the time we are through with you, you will be.”
After her initial fury with Jall passed, Wowryk found herself becoming bored in the small pod. Why hadn’t the Qu’Eh beamed her out yet? What good did Jall think she was going to be able to do in here?
What if the damned thing landed in the middle of the ocean?
The pod’s panel beeped as the tiny craft entered the atmosphere. Wowryk wasn’t an expert on Matria, but she recognized the map displayed well enough. The pod was going to come crashing down right in the middle of the city of Matronus.
The automated systems kicked, in, bringing the pod in to a smooth landing in what seemed to be somebody’s backyard. Wowryk jumped out the hatch, yanking off her environment suit as she did so.
“I’m a DOCTOR,” she snarled to herself, “Not a COMMANDO! What was that idiot thinking? I’m about as useful to a rebellion as an Atheist at a Church picnic!”
She looked around, suddenly realizing that there was a Matrian woman standing on a patio, staring at the escape pod and at the grungy doctor with a look of extreme shock.
“Hi,” Wowryk said, “Any idea where I can find the Matrian Rebellion?”
The woman shook her head slowly.
“I think I have something!”
“Please tell me it’s not another infomercial,”
Marsden and Rengs were seated in the HT’s new makeshift base, just off the main cavern underneath Matronus. For the past several days, they’d been working to establish themselves; gathering what supplies they could and trying to get some information on what was happening. Marsden had been scrounging components from the Matrian stasis equipment and was attempting to establish some kind of system for intercepting and decrypting Matrian and Qu’Eh transmissions. At the moment, they were listening to a static-filled report being broadcast over one of the Matrian military channels.
“Definitely not an infomercial,” Marsden said. He watched the small display, trying to adjust the translator matrix he’d tried to put together.
“My Matrian isn’t very good,” Rengs said, “But isn’t this something to do with an escape pod?”
“I think so,”
“Then it’s probably from a ship,”
“And not a Qu’Eh ship,”
They looked at each other.
“STERRNNN! GET OVER HERE!”
The taller officer rushed in, clad only in his uniform pants. His chest had been shaved, and a happy face had been drawn using the some kind of jam. Each eye/nipple now consisted of a cookie held in place with what looked like peanut butter.
Rengs and Marsden stared.
“I fell asleep,” Stern said flatly, noticing the looks on their faces, “Simmons got bored. We can get back at him later, OK?”
“I have a pack of alien honey left over from breakfast,” Marsden offered.
“Next we go up for supplies, let’s raid something other than a bakery, OK?” Rengs suggested.
“What do we have?” Stern asked, one of his cookies coming loose and dropping to the floor.
“Escape pod,” Rengs reported, suddenly all business, “Crashed in a residential suburb of the city.”
“Starfleet or Matrian?” Stern demanded.
Rengs listened carefully to the radio chatter, a smile spreading over his face.
“Let’s roll!” Stern snapped. The other cookie dropped to the floor.
“Anybody got a wet-nap?”
Chairman P’Tarek paced his office in the Matrian government complex.
“Escaped,” he said again, speaking into his headset, “And we weren’t able to stop the escape pod from landing.”
“Mr. Chairman,” Manager Kalmers was standing nearby, having come down to the surface to report the issue to P’Tarek personally, “It was only one prisoner, a doctor yet, not a soldier! Surely her importance to the quality of our mission is minimal,”
“Dr. Wowryk was on that ship, un-implanted, for a reason!” P’Tarek snapped. He whirled around, his cape spinning out behind him, “If you had properly read the mission briefing, you would know that! She is high-profile in Matrian corporate territory, and keeping her isolated and out of the way was deemed a prudent precaution!”
“If she was so important, why wasn’t she implanted?” Kalmers demanded.
P’Tarek looked at him coldly.
“For the same reason Mistress Laurette wasn’t,” he said finally, “The Shareholders didn’t want the negative publicity,”
He turned towards the tall, metal-laced window that looked out over Dignity Way and the government complex gardens.
“I want her caught,” he said coldly, “And I want her to disappear. Use only Qu’Eh troops…we can’t afford any screw-ups.”
“She’s a doctor,” Kalmers said, turning towards the exit, “Surely, she has no idea what she’s doing,”
Wowryk had no idea what she was supposed to be doing.
The escape pod had contained a survival pack, but even she knew better than to walk around Matronus carrying a pack covered in Starfleet insignia. Instead, she’d dug out the one- size-is-supposed-to-fit-all survival coveralls from under the pod seat and discarded her uniform. She then proceeded to move as quickly away from the pod as she possible could, sticking to back alleys and side streets. She’d come down in one of the residential districts of Matronus, an area of low, two or three storey houses and lush, greenery-filled yards instead of the gleaming spires and crowded streets found in the more densely-populated districts. Having spent some time exploring Matronus prior to the Qu’Eh invasion, she was somewhat familiar with the overall layout. Still, she now found herself alone, with night falling, badly dressed and wandering the streets with no overall direction. Overhead, she could hear the sound of aircraft. Looking up, she could see blinking lights from Qu’Eh shuttles and fighters streaking through the sky, no doubt searching for her. What was Jall thinking?
Jall. Whether he was performing unthinkable sex acts or acting to free her from Qu’Eh activity, that workings of that man’s mind remained a mystery to her. What did he hope to achieve? Did he actually believe that she could be a symbol for the Matrian rebellion, of all things? What kind of difference did he think she could make? Did he really believe in her that much?
Wowryk frowned. She’d hit something there. She thought back, trying to remember the prelude to the battle with the Qu’Eh, when she’d been appointed Jall’s First Officer by Stafford. Jall hadn’t argued. He’d talked with her, over coffee, about how she was viewed by the Matrians, and how he hoped that would help the battle.
But not once had he ever implied that he thought she was incapable of doing the job that she’d been given. And, the more she thought about it, the stranger that seemed. Could it be that Jall, the atheist, arrogant, lust and sin-driven bastard that he was, actually had…faith…in her? Wowryk shivered.
She heard something, possibly a vehicle door opening, from the direction of the street and quickly ducked into a nearby doorway. Peering around the corner, she could see four uniformed Qu’Eh moving onto the street, small handheld sensors in hand. One of them turned in her direction.
The door behind her suddenly opened and an arm grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back. A second arm slapped something onto her arm. As she stumbled back, Wowryk’s mind immediately registered the male features of the body grabbing her. Her arm swung down reflexively, fist clenched, and came into swift contact with her assailant’s crotch. Suddenly free of his grasp, Wowryk jumped back into the alley, only to see the Qu’eh walking towards her. He didn’t look as sure now, however, and was tapping the side of his scanner as if the thing had broken.
Deciding to take her chances with the man she knew she could injure, she jumped back into the building and shut the door behind her.
Deciding now was not the time for the Hippocratic Oath, she stood over him and put her foot down between his legs, ready to crush his vitals if he so much as twitched.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“Jural,” the man replied at once, “I’m not here to hurt me! I mean, you!”
“What do you want?” Wowryk snapped.
“I’m here to rescue you!”
Wowryk blinked. She abruptly registered that the man was dressed in Matrian male formal dress; a somewhat frilly shirt and a pair of fitted pants that did very little to hide his curves. (Matrian women were surprisingly similar to human men when it came to their idea of what their dates should reveal.)
“You’re rescuing me…in formal wear?” Wowryk asked.
“Look, can we talk later? The Qu’Eh are moving in. And I have a plan to keep you safe!”
Wowryk considered. She could run off. It wasn’t like she had a lot of other options.
“Lead the way,” she finally said.
“I really wish we had a car. A tram. SOMETHING!” Simmons whined, wheezing for breath. The HT had been running for almost half an hour already, following Matronus’ underground transit maintenance tunnels. They’d climbed out of the underground cavern and re-entered the transit system, which unfortunately was still running. So far, they’d only had to knock out two transit employees, but Stern wasn’t happy with even that delay. If only they could take the trams without worrying about local security!
“The Qu’Eh are probably there already!”
“I KNOW that!”
“So what do we do?”
“We run faster!” Stern snapped, “We’ve gone nearly five kilometres already, five more won’t kill us!”
“Nooo!” Simmons whined.
“Put this on!” Jarul said, tossing Wowryk a pants-suit like garment, the Matrian equivalent of female formal wear.
“Not while you’re watching!”
“Huh? Oh. Um, OK.” Jarul turned around. Wowryk started getting changed.
“Who are you?” she demanded again.
“I’m with the Matrian Intelligence Team,” he said, “As soon as we picked up your escape pod, we knew it was Federation, and that whomever was aboard would have important information for us,”
“Or at least a plan?” Jarul said hopefully.
He was quiet for a moment
“Then why did you risk being caught and who-knows-what by fighting your way off your ship?” he demanded.
“It wasn’t exactly my idea.” Wowryk snapped, “Commander Jall shoved me into an escape pod and told me to find the Matrian Rebellion!”
She’d finished dressing and now stepped in front of Jarul.
“Fine,” he said, “I can help you with that. But first, we have a dance to get to,”
“This way,” Jarul said, ignoring her question, “my vehicle awaits,”
“Crap!” Lt. Commander Stern muttered, looking out at the scene in front of him.
The HT was huddled underneath a hedge, directly across the street from the home that had become the landing sight for the escape pod. Qu’Eh craft had swamped the area, and uniformed soldiers were walking everywhere.
“They beat us,” Simmons wheezed, still out of breath.
“Yeah, big surprise,” Rengs muttered.
“Humans are weak runners,” Keklor declared.
“We should go,” Marsden said, tapping a Matrian scanner he’d obtained, “Their sensors are going to pick us up,”
“I thought human and Matrian life-signs were too similar to distinguish from each other?” Stern said.
“At long range, yes. This close? Couldn’t tell you without knowing more about Qu’Eh technology. Besides, we’ve got a Klingon, Bajoran and Barudan here, too,” Marsden replied.
Stern suddenly felt the muzzle of a large weapon pressing against one buttock.
“Who are you!?” a voice whispered insistently.
“Crap,” Stern sighed, “Guys, who was watching out rear?”
“Hmm?” Simmons started, “Sorry, I was still catching my breath,”
“Idiot,” Rengs muttered, raising his hands in surrender.
“You’re not Qu’Eh,” the voice went on, “And you don’t seem to be on their side. But you’re not with us. So who are you?”
Stern peeked carefully back, noticing that their uninvited guests were dressed in camouflage and armed with Matrian weapons. They also appeared to be casting nervous glances in the direction of the Qu’Eh troops.
“We’re…freedom fighters,” Stern said, “Against the Qu’Eh invasion.”
The figure relaxed slightly.
“And I’m Mistress Laheya, with the Matrian Rebellion.”
There were shouts from the direction of the Qu’Eh vehicles.
“And we’re all in big s**t if we don’t get out of here!” Stern snapped.
Lehaya reached down and helped pull the larger man to his feet with surprising strength.
“Shall we?” she asked.
Wowryk’s mind was spinning.
In the span of mere hours, she’d gone from living in Silverado’s shuttlebay to crashing on a planet and wandering the streets, to being hunted by the Qu’Eh, and had now been dropped into the company of a very strange Matrian man. Wearing the suit-like outfit he’d provided, she’d been whisked into a waiting hover-limo and driven to this…place. The building was a square pyramid, with a stained-glass roof that peaked high over their heads. A group of musicians were playing in one corner, and all around them Matrian couples danced, each attired in similar formal wear.
“Good thing I thought to have some jewelry in the car,” Jarul said, “You look lovely in those earrings.”
“Will you stop hitting on me and explain what we’re doing here!?”
Jarul suddenly yanked her onto the dance floor. Wowryk had no idea what was happening, but for some reason found herself going with him. As he led her through the other dances, she saw that a pair of Qu’Eh soldiers was at the entrance, talking to one of the attendants.
“The government has been sponsoring these socials for the past year,” Jarul said, “They’re supposed to encourage male-female couplings, and to increase the number of successful pregnancies,”
“After marriage, I hope,” Wowryk sniffed.
“Is marriage that important in human culture?” Jarul asked. He shook his head, “Never mind. Look, the point is, you need to disappear for a while. Who would expect you to show up here, after escaping from your ship?”
“Them,” Wowryk said flatly, gesturing at the Qu’Eh. They had passed the entrance, and were now combing through the crowd.
“Good point,” Jarul said. He thought for a moment, “Lead us towards that far corner. I have a backup plan,”
“I can’t keep leading us in this dance!” Jarul hissed, “It looks strange! Women are supposed to lead! That’s just the way it is,”
“But I don’t…oh fine!” Wowryk started moving them in the indicated direction.
“So what if Commander Jall had sent a guy down to the planet?” she asked.
“It was considered most likely that somebody important enough to be sent down from your ship with information for us would be female,” Jarul said.
“I keep forgetting that there are reasons why I like this planet.” Wowryk said thoughtfully, “So what is this backup plan of yours?”
“Um, we’re going to run through the alley behind the building and try to evade the Qu’Eh,” Jarul said.
“That’s what I was doing before you found me!” Wowryk snapped, “Don’t you have backup? Troops? Government support?”
Wowryk fumed, still leading them as they danced their way to the rear of the building.
“What kind of secret agent are you, anyway?” she asked.
“I have to work independent of the government right now,” Jarul said sharply, “The Qu’Eh think they have the support of our government, now that Laurette is in charge. If they caught the MIT working against them…”
“Right,” Wowryk sighed.
The Qu’Eh soldiers were still moving through the crowd, getting closer to the two of them.
“We need a better plan than running through the alley!” Wowryk hissed.
“Well, I have this place I’m supposed to take you, but not for several-“
Wowryk stepped on his foot.
“OW! OK, fine!”
“Hmm? Oh,” Wowryk blushed, “Sorry. I told you I wasn’t a very good dancer. But good. Let’s go!”
But Jarul’s exclamation of pain had drawn the attention of the soldiers. Now that they’d taken a close look at her, they must have recognized her, because they started rushing right at her.
“Let’s go!” Wowryk snapped, grabbing him by the arm. They rushed towards the rear exit, ignoring the shouts of the Qu’Eh. Dodging through a narrow hallway, they found themselves in a small corridor. A nearby door was labelled ‘Exit’, another was labelled ‘Kitchen’.
“This way!” Wowryk and Jarul both shouted, trying to pull each other in opposite directions.
“The exit is here!” Jarul snapped.
“Just how long have you been doing this secret agent thing, anyway?” Wowryk demanded, “I’m a doctor, and even I know you have to come up with something more creative than that!”
The two Qu’Eh rushed into the rear corridor, finding themselves confronted with two doors. The one immediately moved towards the one labelled ‘Exit’, however the other one was looking more closely at the second door. It was ajar, and he was pretty sure he could hear somebody there. Surely, the higher-quality solution would be to ensure their prey wasn’t in the building before leaving.
They pushed through into the kitchen, completely unprepared for what they saw.
The woman they were pursuing was standing behind the counter, looking at them with an angry glare in her eyes. The man next to her had been strapped to the refrigerator with the shredded remains of an apron, a spatula sticking out of his mouth like a tongue and carrot-like vegetables sticking out of both ears. The two soldiers were so dumbstruck by the absurdity of the scene that they were completely caught off guard when the woman suddenly brought a pot of something steaming up from behind the counter, throwing the contents in their faces. They Qu’Eh screamed and clawed at their faces as the substance burned, giving Jarul ample time to rip through the apron restraints spit out the spatula and knock both unconscious.
“Matrian Spice Chowder,” Wowryk said with satisfaction, “The most corrosive dish on the planet,”
“How did you know-“ Jarul started to ask.
“I had to regenerate three stomach linings before we figured out what was causing it,” Wowryk said smugly.
“And the…distraction?” Jarul asked, pulling the last few remaining shred of apron from around his wrists and trying desperately to regain his dignity.
“Let’s just say that I work with a group of very…unique…people,” Wowryk said, “Now let’s go. And pull those carrots out of your ears!”
“Yes, ma’am,” Jarul muttered.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful,” Stern said, sitting in the back of a hover-fan driven by their new allies, “But we were at that crash site for a reason! We think one of our people-“
Rengs elbowed him.
“Uh, one of the Starfleeters may have escape from the ships in orbit,”
“We know,” Laheya said, “And, please, we knew you were Starfleet too as soon as wrinkles and hairball over there got in the van.”
Kreklor bared his teeth. Dar’ugal just gave a sad sort of sigh.
“Um, well.” Stern shrugged, “OK, you got us.”
Laheya parked the hover-van, then led them into the transit system. As it turned out, the Matrian Rebellion’s base was about a kilometer away from the HT base, deep below Matronus.
“And as for your missing person, we have a plan,” Laheya said. “In fact, if all goes according to plan, you will be reunited in a matter of hours.”
They came around the corner, right by the hidden entrance to the cavern, only to find themselves face to face with Dr. Wowryk and an unfamiliar Matrian male.
“Things didn’t go according to plan,” the Matrian said, shrugging, “We had to ditch out early, but I don’t think we were followed,”
“Lt. Commander Stern,” Wowryk said coldly.
There was muttering as several of the Matrian rebels exchanged looks.
“THE Dr. Wowryk?” Lehaya deamanded.
“Yes,” Wowryk said flatly.
“How do we know it’s really you?” Simmons asked suspiciously.
“Do you want me to detail the numerous sexual infections Stern’s has had to be treated for over the years?” Wowryk snapped.
“Let’s just get her back to base,” Stern said quickly, gesturing towards the tunnel entrance.
High above the planet, Jall found himself in a small room, with only a cot, a desk and a toilet for company. He’d been left there, along with a pile of paperwork that he apparently had to complete before his torture could begin. Understandable, he wasn’t in any hurry to get started.
He had no idea what had happened after he’d launched Wowryk out in the pod. He could only hope that she’d been able to help on the planet. The Great Bird knew nobody on Silverado was helping anybody anytime soon. It would be hard for the Matrians to fight back against the Qu’Eh, but maybe they could do something. And if his other little act of rebellion against the Qu’eh had succeeded, things could really start turning around.
Earth: One Week Ago:
There was a sudden beeping from the computer terminal, then the cold, mechanical voice of the computer.
“Incoming message,” it said, “Text only,”
The occupant of the spacious living room rose to his feet, only the slightest whisper of cloth audible as he moved.
“Display message,” he said softly, his voice barely loud enough for the computer to detect.
TO: COMMANDER MATTHEW NOONAN, MONTREAL, CANADIAN REGION, EARTH, TERRAN SECTOR
FROM: COMMANDER SAN JALL, USS SILVEARDO, MATRIAN SECTOR
SUBJECT: FW: REINFORCEMENTS
MATRIA INVADED BY HOSTILE A**HOLE ALIENS. SHIP CRIPPLED, CAPTAIN, CREW AND MATRIAN GOV’T HIDING IN UNDERGROUND BUNKER. STARFLEET REFUSES TO SEND REINFORCEMENTS DUE TO SOME STUPID DUMB-ASS PROBLEM.
Matt Noonan carefully read the message again. He’d known that politics were being played at the higher levels, making it difficult for Admiral Tunney to get things done, but he had no idea that things had deteriorated so far.
Apparently, his vacation was over.