Author: Brendan Chris
Starfleet Headquarters, Earth.
The Invasion of Matria Prime - +7 Days
Commander Matthew Noonan was accustomed to waiting.
That’s not to say that he especially enjoyed it. But when one has been alive for over two hundred years, one learns to deal with such inconveniences.
Just hours ago he’d received a message from San Jall, first officer of the Silverado. Strange to think that Stafford had willingly given Noonan’s old job to Jall, but Noonan was pleased that the young Captain at least seemed to be making some smart decisions. Shortly after Noonan had left the ship, Silverado had been ordered back to Matrian space. In a matter of days, a race called the Qu’Eh had invaded, Silverado had been disabled and communications with the Matrian system had been cut off. Except for a single plea for help from Jall, who claimed that the reinforcements Starfleet and President Dillon had promised weren’t actually on their way.
Noonan knew that time was of the essence. Matria Prime was weeks away. The more time the Qu’Eh were given to entrench themselves in Matrian Space, the harder it would be to get rid of them. Communications with Senous, Matria Prime’s closest Federation neighbour, were still up, but the Senousian defence fleet had taken a beating in the battle for Matria Prime and was in no shape to help out.
Noonan had already been in contact with Admiral Edward Tunney, the man ultimately responsible for Silverado. That conversation had not been especially fruitful, and so he now found himself waiting for a meeting with Fleet Admiral Ra’al.
“It’s not a matter of having ships available,” Tunney had said tiredly, rubbing his forehead with one hand, “We’ve got several ships holding position at Waystation, ready to head out. The problem is that they’re old, outdated Operation Salvage ships. They’re not especially reliable, and putting them up against the Qu’Eh attack fleet would be a f…a bad idea.”
“So we’re going to do what, exactly?” Noonan had asked, “Wait for Ra’al to change her mind? Have President Dillon intervene?”
“We can’t go to President Dillon,” Tunney had said quickly, “Just…just trust me on that one. As for Ra’al…”
Tunney had leaned closer and lowered his voice.
“If you can…convince her to give me one or two modern, top-of-the-line battleships, say a Sovereign or a couple of Galaxy-class ships, I’ll send them along with every ship I have sitting at Waystation. “
“If not?” Noonan had asked.
“If not,” Tunney sat back and sighed, “Then we’re going to have to find a ship somewhere else.”
A day later, Commander Noonan was still waiting. As was his custom, he’d sunken into a meditative state, using his unique abilities more than his eyes and ears to sense the world around him. Over the course of the fifteen hours he’d been sitting there he’d had two service robots attempt to dust him, three receptionists inquire as to his health and a small child poke him and ask its mother why there was a statue in the waiting room.
He had not, however, come any closer to meeting with the Fleet Admiral.
Meetings with Ra’al were not easy to come by, especially for somebody like Noonan who was, in the halls of Starfleet HQ, a nobody. He’d confess to using a few borderline-ethical tactics with the receptionists, but those had apparently proven less successful that he would have expected.
A small human male was standing next to Noonan, holding a data padd. Noonan turned to look at the man, the sudden transition from statue to living, breathing entity startling the man enough for him to take a quick step back.
“Um…here…” He handed over the data padd. On it was an image of Fleet Admiral Ra’al. Worried, Noonan hit the ‘Play Message’ button.
“Commander Noonan,” the image of Ra’al begain, her voice cold, slightly disdainful, “I understand you have been attempting to meet with me. Normally, I would simply ignore the fact that an officer of mere Commander rank was attempting to get my attention by bypassing normal channels, but as I’m sure you’re aware, I have a sufficiently high security clearance level to understand that you are…not exactly the average officer. So I will take the time to deliver this message in as direct a manner as prudence allows.” She paused for a moment.
“I will not meet with you, nor will I give you any opportunity to use your little tricks to cloud my judgement. The simple matter is that the Federation is a vast body, with many critical concerns to attend to. We have allocated what assets we can spare to the Qu’Eh threat, and neither yourself nor Admiral Tunney can convince me that an alien species weeks from our borders warrants more attention that the far more immediate threats we now face.”
She leaned forward, her face a study in annoyance.
“Now go away and stop bothering my staff!”
The image vanished.
So that was that. There would be no opportunity for him to attempt to convince Ra’al to send Tunney the ships he would need. And without a sufficient force, Tunney wouldn’t be sending anybody to Matrian Space.
Noonan sighed. It was time to get…unconventional.
Matronus, Matria Prime
The Invasion of Matria Prime +20 Days
“This is getting confusing,” Lieutenant Marsden said, shifting his attention from one padd to another. “When you say ‘Matronus’, are you talking about the current city, the one we’re hiding underneath, or the orbital habitat that blew up hundreds of years ago and was forgotten about during the suspended animation thing?”
“You have to put it into context,” Lieutenant Commander David Stern said, looking over Marsden’s shoulder, “Are you reading about giant explosions, or about civil unrest?”
“Um…this one is a report from one of the Matrian rebel cells on the Qu’Eh facility being built near the outskirts of the city,” Marsden replied.
“Well, then they’re probably not talking about a space station that blew up hundreds of years ago, are they?”
“Well, no. I suppose not.”
The Hazardous Team, Silverado’s not-so-elite Alpha security team, had been hiding for weeks now in the maze of tunnels surrounding the massive underground cavern the female citizens of Matronus had used as a stasis facility during the reconstruction of the city. The Qu’Eh had been poking around the main chamber itself, searching for any remaining traces of the technology that had allowed the Matrian women to so completely alter the personalities of the Matrian men during that era. Fortunately, the modern Matrians had seen to the complete destruction of the M-SID technology, having decided that their society could not move forward on a basis of equality while the threat of personality alteration existed. The Qu’Eh, from what the Hazardous Team had learned, were not pleased with this turn of events. The acquisition of M-SIDs was apparently one of the driving factors behind the Qu’Eh invasion.
But that didn’t entirely make sense either. The Matrians had sent out dozens of the things in the search for their ‘perfect/perfectly controllable man’. Surely the Qu’Eh could have obtained one easily enough. Heck, the arrival of such a device in their system may have prompted their interest in the first place. But if that was the case, why were the Qu’Eh sending people to poke around in the ruins of the Matrian suspended animation caverns?
“What do they say about the facility?” Stern asked.
“It’s got a really big subspace communications array. Maybe even a link up to an orbital transceiver station. Maybe something on one of the Qu’Eh ships?”
“Could be. What else do we have?”
“Dr. Wowryk is about to send a group of Matrian rebels on a scouting mission into the government complex.” Marsden reported.
“Is that today? Crap! I better get over there!”
Stern dashed out the low exit of the dimly lit chamber and took a hard right into the tunnel. After about five meters, the tunnel branched off in five different directions. One tunnel led to the Matronus transit system, another to the main stasis/Dream Nexus chamber. The final three led into the maze of tunnels and chambers surrounding the main chamber.
Stern stopped, stared, then turned around and bolted back.
“Second tunnel from the right,” Marsden said the instant he heard Stern’s footsteps.
“Thanks,” Stern said, reversing course yet again.
Dr. Noel Wowryk sat on an old crate in an empty chamber off one of the many tunnels surrounding the Matronus cavern. She’d been trying to work a knot out of her hair for about five minutes now, but the damned thing just didn’t want to come out. On the other hand, her uniform was dirty and dust-streaked and she hadn’t showered since crashing on the planet, so one could say that the knot simply added to her ensemble.
You could, but she’d probably beat you senseless.
Wowryk was not in the best of moods. First, she’d found herself trapped aboard Silverado working for Jall of all people, and having to deal with that slimy little Chairman P’tarek. The next thing she knew, Jall was launching her off in an escape pod with some half-baked idea that she could somehow help out any rebel elements that might be forming in response to the Qu’Eh invasion.
The worst part was, the bastard was half right. She’d barely finished picking herself up out of the crash site when Jural, a member of Matrian Intelligence had tracked her down. The Hazardous Team, also chasing after her, had made contact with a Matrian rebel group. They had originally been rebelling against Queen Anselia and the idea of male equality, but the Qu’Eh invasion had slightly altered their priorities. Add on top of that the fact that the old rebel ranks were now swelling with Matrian citizens eager to fight the Qu’Eh and it left you with quite a mess.
Now, Wowryk found herself stuck between Jural’s pro-government agenda, Stern’s ‘blow stuff up’ agenda and whatever it was the rebels hoped to achieve after defeating the Qu’Eh. Needless to say, she wasn’t enjoying the situation.
“OK, so which group do I need to inspire next?” she asked.
“We have a team of two that are going to sabotage the luggage loading systems at the Matronus spaceport,” Jural said.
“That doesn’t sound very useful,” Wowryk commented
“It’s not. But in the ensuing customer service nightmare, we should be able to get a man aboard one of the supply shuttles heading for orbital sensor station 13.”
“Don’t tell me any more, I don’t want to know,” Wowryk said, “Then what?”
“Then we’re sending a spy team into the palace,” Jural said.
“Ookay,” Wowryk shrugged.
“What, you have a problem?”
“No, by all means, let’s send people in to spy on the woman that Stafford and Anselia put in charge of the government,” Wowryk rolled her eyes, “Just saying that maybe somebody has some trust issues here,”
Jural’s mouth tightened.
“This isn’t about the Qu’Eh,” he said. He looked around, then lowered his voice, “I have reason to believe that Mistress Laurette was involved with the rebels before the invasion.”
Wowryk digested this. Ever since Stafford had made her Jall’s first officer, she’d been forced to think in terms of tactics and strategy. She still wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
“That’s why you insisted that this team be made up of new rebels,” she said slowly, “If she was involved, you think the older rebels would cover for her,”
“Exactly,” Jural said, “Look, we need to know where she stands. Or your fleet might overthrow the Qu’Eh just in time to deliver the whole planet into Laurette’s hands.
“I’ll go brief them now, then,” Wowryk said.
Stern found Wowryk in a nearby chamber, standing in front of a half-dozen Matrians. They were dressed in normal street cloths and had even showered and groomed themselves. Wowryk herself was still wearing her battered uniform.
“This mission is vital to our cause,” Wowryk was saying, “We need to know details on how Laurette is handling the Qu’Eh leadership. She is also,” Wowryk paused dramatically, “aware of Queen Anselia’s location, along with the rest of the Council. It is imperative that we determine whether she has been implanted, and that she remains loyal to the true leaders of Matria!”
Stern stepped in quietly, watching as Wowryk wrapped up her speech.
“People like you are the future of this planet,” she said passionately, “And your efforts will help defeat the Qu’Eh, once and for all!”
The rebels filed out.
“You were supposed to wait for me to coach you,” Stern said, annoyed.
“And why would I do that?” Wowryk asked snidely, “I understand I know nothing about insurgency, or tactics, or warfare. But do you honestly think I know nothing about converting people to a cause?”
Ohhhh. Good point with that one.
“All right. So we’ve been sending people on missions for a while now, collecting some good info, and getting the rebellion on its feet,” Stern said, crossing his arms, “Now can you tell me why you and this Jural buddy of yours think it’s so important to investigate Laurette?”
“Agent Jural,” Wowryk sniffed, “Is worried that Laurette has information that could compromise every group working against the Qu’Eh on this planet.”
“Well, he’s right,” Stern said, “So? She’s the leader.”
“It’s not a big deal,” Wowryk said, “The rebels will get in, make sure she isn’t implanted, observe her for a couple of days, then report back.”
“You’ve really bought into this guy’s plan, huh?” Stern commented.
“And what are you suggesting?” Wowryk raised an eyebrow.
The two officers spun to see Mistress Lehaya striding towards them, a look of rage on her face.
“What?” Wowryk snapped.
“Did you just send a team to spy on Laurette?”
“Yes. It is important that-“
“Oh, you IDIOT!” Lehaya spun around, throwing her weapon to the ground hard enough to crack the casing, “WHY???”
“I was trying to tell you-“
“We need to make sure Laurette isn’t leaking anything,” Stern said, “By accident, or because somebody plugged a nasty observation device into the side of her head,”
“She isn’t,” Lehaya said flatly.
“She might be,” Wowryk snapped, “We’ve had no contact with her, nor public communications in weeks. We do not know what the Qu’Eh may be doing to her! And she knows the location of Queen Anselia and your precious ruling council!”
“It’s a dangerous situation,” Stern agreed, “We can’t take the chance that she’s been compromised.
Lehaya suddenly looked very uncomfortable. Stern noticed immediately.
“You know something!” he accused, pointing a finger.
“Ohhh….Laurette’s one of the biggest supporters of the rebellion!” Lehaya blurted out, “She’s been diverting resources in our direction for over a year! She knows the rebel structure inside out!”
Wowryk blinked. For all the time she and Jural had spend speculating on Laurette, neither of them thought to simply ask their local rebel ringleader.
“Really?” Wowryk asked.
“Really.” Laheya said flatly.
“Perfect!” Stern said cheerfully, “Then just call her up and ask how things are going. No sweat.”
“No,” Wowryk shook her head, “No, no, no!”
She grabbed Stern by the shirt.
“Don’t you get it?” she snapped, “The woman Stafford and Anselia trusted to run the Matrian government under the Qu’Eh not only knows where the legitimate government is hiding, she was planning a rebellion to take them out of power!”
Realization dawned in Stern’s eyes. He turned to Lehaya.
“She wouldn’t,” he said, “Not to invading aliens, right?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Lehaya said coldly as she turned to leave, “Would you?”
Wowryk and Stern sat in silence for a moment.
“Well,” Wowryk said, standing up, “I guess I’ll just go tell those guys to come back then. I’m sure we can find another mission to send them on, if we don’t need them spying on Laurette.”
“Unless Lehaya, Anselia and Stafford have all horribly misjudged Laurette,” Stern pointed out, “In which case, we’re all in deep shit,”
Wowryk’s mouth tightened.
“Maybe just one spy,” she sighed, “Something a bit more subtle than a whole team,”
“Agreed,” Stern nodded.
“This rebellion stuff is hard,” Wowryk complained, rubbing her head, “I’d rather clean up the injuries afterwards than worry about all this plotting and scheming. And now I have to go explain to Jural that his worst fears may have been confirmed.”
“We need to speed things up a bit,” Stern decided.
“What do you suggest?”
“I think it’s time we clarified things a bit for everybody,” Stern said firmly.
“Are you sure you’re OK with this, Doc?” Stern asked.
“I am certain,” Wowryk nodded. Using Agent Jural’s contacts in the Matrian government, the Hazardous Team had managed to sneak into a seldom used holo-vision studio. The darkened set had apparently once been used for a kids show of some kind, and while Wowryk was concerned that having giant images of furry, cuddly animals in the background wasn’t exactly giving her a threatening, rebellious image, it was the only set that had all the recording equipment in place.
“Now remember,” Jural said for the third time, “You’re tied into the emergency channel, but the Qu’Eh will probably be able to cut you off after a couple of minutes. Say what you have to say then let’s get the heck out of here!”
“I’m ready,” Wowryk said, taking a deep breath and turning to Stern, “Jural and I can handle this part of the operation. You should move on to your next task,”
“Uh, you do realize that if the Qu’Eh move quick, this place might be surrounded by troops in a few minutes,”
“Exactly why I want you gone,” Wowryk said sharply. “A rebellion is useless without information on the enemy. You need to go get some. And perhaps what I do here will keep the Qu’Eh from noticing you.”
“You’re the boss, doc,”
“Easy boys, we’re just a bunch of dudes taking a nice, quiet walk on a nice, quiet day,” Commander Stern murmured as he led the humanoid portion of the Hazardous Team out of the studio and into the Matronus transit system.
“Yeah, just a bunch of dudes hanging out without any women,” Simmons muttered back, “Perfectly normal. Why don’t we have more girls on the HT?”
“Because any girl who tries joining ends up leaving because of you,” Marsden replied, smiling politely at a passing Matrian couple and trying to ignore the Qu’Eh guard walking a few feet behind them.
“Y’know, you’re right,” Simmons frowned, “I wonder why that is?”
“Where to we start?” Rengs muttered.
The four of them boarded a subway tram and rode out to one of the suburbs of Matronus. According to Qu’Eh advertisements (and Matrian rebels), a new facility was nearing completion and needed to be staffed. Fantastic incentives like ‘continued existence’ and ‘preservation of your family lineage’ were being offered to encourage Matrians to apply, but surprisingly few had actually done so. Still, now that Wowryk was urging the Matrian people to rebel, the HT had decided that a little recon was in order. After the tram stopped they walked up to street level.
The Qu’Eh structure was easy to locate. Most of the Matrian architecture tended to emphasize hexagonal shapes, groupings of six and greyish blue or red colouring. Here, rows of nearly identical houses were suddenly interrupted by a massive, cube-shaped building. Stern didn’t know if houses had been demolished to make room for the building, or if something else had been there before. But the new structure was decidedly out-of-place. A bank of perfectly identical doors led out onto the street, and as they watched a Qu’Eh shuttle touched down on the roof.
“Look at that hardware,” Marsden said, pointing towards the top of the building.
“You mean the shield generator and disruptor cannons?” Stern asked.
“No,” Marsden frowned, “Well, ok, that’s strange too, now that you mention it. But look at all the comm arrays. You could handle tens of thousands of simultaneous transmissions with those. They must have a repeater array up in orbit…maybe in geosync…”
Stern led them in through one of the entrances. A short hallway led into a very, very bland reception room.
“Welcome to Quali-Tech,” a smiling receptionist said. Stern would have found her attractive, if not for the Qu’Eh implant fused into her skull, “Why don’t you let me tell you about some of our excellent benefits while you fill out these employment applications?”
“Um, we’re not sure if we want to apply,” Stern said, “We were just hoping to get more information on the kind of work.”
The receptionist used an ear-tendril to flip a switch on her implant. Barred gates suddenly slid into place over the exit.
“Oh, filling out an application is mandatory upon entrance,” she said, “Didn’t you read the sign?”
Stern suddenly jumped.
“Did I hear something?” the receptionist frowned, looking confused.
“No, nothing,” Stern said immediately. He jumped again, and Rengs, standing next to him, could have sworn he heard a muffled voice.
The receptionist was starting to look suspicious.
“I need a bathroom,” Stern said, clutching his stomach, “I’m gonna pop!”
With a theatrical sign, the receptionist tapped her panel, opening a side door.
“So, um,” Rengs swallowed, wondering just why Stern needed the facilities so badly, “Tell us about this job we’re apparently applying for?”
Back at the studio, Wowryk was composing herself in front of the holo-images.
“You have the speech we prepared?” Jural asked.
“You have the fiery gaze of conviction?”
“One moment,” Wowryk pulled a pocket Bible out, read a few passages, then looked up.
Jural jumped back.
“Fiery gaze of conviction, check,” he gulped. “Let’s go.”
All across Matrian Prime, aboard the damaged Matrian ships in orbit, and on Matrian assets throughout the sector, viewscreens suddenly jumped to life or shifted away from entertainment and news channels to show an image of an ordinary human woman, almost indistinguishable from a Matrian. Her arburn hair was pulled back in a simple ponytail and she wore clean but simple Matrian clothing. A Starfleet comm-badge marked her to even the more out-of-touch Matrians as an offworlder from Silverado, the ship that had had such an impact on their society. Her expression was calm, her pale skin like porcelain. The few Matrian children viewing the scene quickly recognize Hespar, a furry hamster-like animal featured on the Mr. & Mrs. Equality show, in the dark background behind her.
“People of the Matrian Republic,” she said, “Many of you already know me as Dr. Noel Wowryk, an officer aboard the Federation ship Silverado. Two years ago, I came to your ruling council with a message of hope and tolerance, one that your people came to embrace. In helping to lead your defence force against the Qu’Eh invasion, I came to know as well the determination and pride your people have come to take in their new world. Now, I come to you with a different message,”
“To the Qu’Eh, I say simply this: Leave. You are not wanted.”
Across the cities, in homes, near outside viewscreens and in workplaces, Matrians nodded in firm agreement.
“To the people of the Matrian Republic, I say this: Your government, your true government, led by Queen Anselia and King Hektor, are safe. And we, the leaders of the new Matrian Rebellion, will be working to ensure that they, not invading aliens and not co-operative apologists, return to lead you into the future.”
High in orbit, aboard his flagship, Chairman P’tarek’s mouth was contorted in a snarl of rage.
“If you are with us, wait for our sign,” Wowryk said, “And the revolt will begin.”
Aboard the U.S.S. Silverado, or what was left of her, Lieutenant Travis Pye watched the viewscreen and promptly began chewing on his nails.
“I really wish one of the senior officers were here right now,” he moaned. He pulled one hand out of his mouth and unconsciously started rubbing the implant the Qu’Eh had forced him to wear.
“Unable to function without direction supervision,” the voice of the current supervisor whispered in his ear, “Excellent. You are an excellent example case for our micro-management workgroup!”
“No thank you,” Pye squeaked.
Next to him, Lieutenant Bith was deep in thought. The two of them were in Shuttlebay 1, which was still acting as a command and control center for the Qu’Eh directed repair efforts. They’d succeeding in restoring basic life support to a few decks, but since almost every important circuit on every deck had been fried, it was very slow going. That suited Pye and the rest of the Beta shift officers just fine. They didn’t even want to think about what would happen if they ever managed to get the ship working for the Qu’Eh.
Bith grabbed his hand. Weeks ago, Wowryk and Jall had managed to work out a method of communicating that couldn’t be picked up by the Qu’Eh implant. She started stroking his palm, spelling out her message in the Standard alphabet.
<Must transmit to command> she sent, <Doubt the rebels have interstellar comms>
Pye couldn’t help but agree. Moving up to the control booth, he picked up the small transceiver the Qu’Eh had used to trick Jall into obtaining information telling the Qu’Eh that there was no Federation fleet on the way. He knew that the Qu’Eh would know as soon as he used it, and that they’d take it away if it was no longer suiting their purposes. But if there was active rebellion on the planet, and a timetable to a revolution…well, he couldn’t risk NOT sending the message.
Stern bolted into the bathroom, grateful that everything appeared compatible with human anatomy. Wasting no time, he promptly jammed two fingers down his throat, bringing up a disgusting combination of bile and half-digested ration bars. Oh, and a slightly discoloured miniature comm-badge. Either rubbing against the remains of the ration bar or the trip back up through his esophagus had apparently opened the channel somebody was trying to establish.
“Stay in the shadows, Barudan,” Keklor’s voice came out of the tiny badge, “We do not need somebody wondering why an orange hair-ball is wandering the streets.”
“What do you guys want?” Stern demanded quietly.
“Ahh, Commander. You have not yet died in honourable battle?” Keklor asked with forced politeness. (In Matronus, it was considered unseemly to shout into a communications device, even if Keklor’s Klingon culture demanded it. On the other hand, Keklor was trying to hide from sight anyway. At least he’s making the effort.)
“We just barely got in the door! It’s going to be a couple more hours before we get to the rising hostilities, and even longer before things break out into a fight.”
“Then when do you want us, your valiant backup, to storm the place and kill your oppressors?”
“When shit starts blowing up, you guys can come on in. Until then, take Darg out for a latte or something. Maybe a romantic walk in the park.”
A string of Klingon profanity burst from the device.
“I’ll contact you later,” Stern hissed, hoping nobody had heard the loud expletives, “Stern out!”
He popped the tiny communications device back into his mouth and swallowed. Flushing down the remains of lunch he cleaned his hands and stepped out the door.
Rengs, Marsden and Simmons were standing in the reception office, hands above their heads and Qu’Eh guards holding weapons against their backs.
“We’re hired,” Rengs gulped.
Rigel VI Salvage Depot
Commander Matt Noonan stood aboard the bridge of the U.S.S. O’Keefe. A Sovereign-class ship, the O’Keefe could have been the answer to Noonan and Tunny’s problems. Could have been, if she wasn’t a shattered wreck sitting in orbit between the wreckage of a Regula-class outpost and two Akira-class starships. With her saucer and nacelles largely intact but her engineering hull reduced to rubble, the O’Keefe was a candidate for Operation Salvage. Unfortunately, there was no way she’d be processed in time to help Matria Prime.
Of course, Noonan reflected as he looked around the dark, nearly powerless bridge, that wasn’t what he had in mind for this particular ship anyway. Admiral Tunney had contacted him barely an hour before with news of a message from Matrian Space. Watching Dr. Wowryk spread a message of rebellion had convinced Noonan that the time for conventional tactics had ended. It was time to do something extreme.
There was a soft beep from the tactical console. Noonan brought up the short range sensors. As he expected, a vessel was de-cloaking directly ahead. A Federation vessel. Another Sovereign-class ship, in fact. As the distant light of the Rigel star illuminated her hull, Noonan’s sensitive eyes could easily read the name: U.S.S. Banshee.
“What are we doing here again?” Lt Commander Ben Rachow asked from the helm console of the Banshee, “And, more importantly, how the hell is hanging around an old salvage yard going to help me get laid?”
“I do not believe anything could assist you in your relentless quest for sexual intercourse,” said Captain Velorn, the Vulcan ‘Experience & Guidance Officer’ (read ‘Babysitter’) of the Banshee.
“I bet Vince would help me out, wouldn’t you?” Rachow smirked.
Lt. Cmdr. Vince DiSanto, ship’s Tactical Officer and rumoured (yet repeatedly disproven) homosexual, didn’t even bother to formulate a comeback.
Sitting in the center seat was a tall, thin Betazoid. As his crew bickered, he simply sighed and raised his eyes to the transparent dome above his chair as if to ask: ‘Why me?’
“Whoever is messing around with the sensors, kindly stop at once!” Doctor Elizabeth Lang snapped from the sciences console. The gorgeous, leggy blond was accompanied by her pet hamster, Zeke. Next to Vince at the tactical panel, Chief of Security Dan Smith could have sworn that Zeke was shaking a scolding finger at the bridge crew.
“Hmm? Oh, I’m sorry,” this time is was Charlotte Burns, First Officer, that spoke up, “I just found this interesting shot of a drifting warp nacelle about to drift into a gaping chasm in that Galaxy-class ship. Reminded me of my date last night,”
She blinked innocently at the bridge crew, who had been trying all morning to collectively ignore the condom wrapper stuck to her hair. Charlotte was, well, Charlotte. The only thing preventing her from being a cheap hooker was the fact that she never charged for her ‘services’. (Of course, most of her partners ended up feeling that they’d paid a horrible price, regardless.)
“Why, was he moving the speed of your average glacier, terrified of the unspeakable agony he’d feel when he actually made contact?” Rachow asked.
“No,” Charlotte snapped, “But he, unlike you, was hung like a warp nacelle,”
“So what does that make you, the front end of one of those three-kilometer long planet eaters?”
“Oh, you are SO going to die, you little shit!”
“Everybody shut up!” Captain Jad Vorezze finally snapped, “I don’t know if any of you remembered, but we’re actually here on a mission, we actually have a job to do, and our contact is probably freezing his ass off on that dead ship over there as we speak!”
“Well, without an ass, at least he’ll be safe from Vince!” Rachow cracked.
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks and Rachow vanished. In his place, a tall, pale, dark-haired humanoid appeared.
“Our guest has arrived,” Vince said, “Oh, and Ben is kindly keeping his seat warm for him, over on the O’Keefe,”
“Thank you, but I will not be returning,” the man said, his voice soft yet somehow possessing a hard undertone.
“Here’s hoping we can say the same thing about Ben,” Charlotte muttered, dabbing a crust of dried makeup away from one eye.
“I am Commander Matthew Noonan,” the man introduced himself, “And I find myself in the unusual position of being in need of your services,”
“I just bet you are, handsome,” Charlotte oozed.
“Bad dog! Down!” Vorezze said harshly, grabbing the squirt bottle from beneath his seat and firing several misty shots in Burns’ direction. He turned to Noonan. “Let’s talk in my ready room.”
“Of course,” Noonan politely inclined his head.
As they exited, DiSanto turned to Smith.
“First, how does a Starfleet Officer even know we exist?” he asked, “And second, what makes him think we’d do anything to help him?”
“If he is what I think he is,” Smith, Banshee’s expert on the supernatural and the occult, replied, “Then Section 31 will want his services far more than he needs ours,”
“OK, first question:” Vorezze said, leaning forward on his desk and pushing his glasses up on his nose, “How the hell does an ordinary Starfleet Officer know that Section 31 even exists, never mind know enough about them to get the use of a Soverign- class ship full of illegal technologies?”
“I have had contact with Section 31 before,” Noonan said simply, “And I have agreed to provide them with certain…services…in return for your assistance.
“You have, have you?” Vorezze said flatly.
Section 31 was the ultra-secret branch of Starfleet. Nobody outside the organization, not the citizens, not Starfleet, not the Federation Council, not even the President himself was supposed to know of their existence. Section 31 had one purpose: protect the Federation by ANY means necessary. To carry out that end, their ships were equipped with all manner of illegal technology: phase cloaks, cataclysm torpedoes, advanced shields and warp drive, and even beaming technology that could reach right through deflector shields. They were a formidable force, but above all they had to operate under a mask of complete secrecy. (In theory, anyway.)
“My orders from Section 31 say that I’m to pick you up and accompany you to Starbase Waystation,” Vorezze said, standing straight and crossing his arms, “And that you’d be providing further details,”
“The Banshee will be the flagship of an assault fleet that will go to Matria Prime, drive out a hostile alien invasion force and rescue the crew of the U.S.S. Silverado,” Noonan explained, “Of course, you will have to pretend to be normal Starfleet officers for the duration,”
“Of course,” Vorezze said sceptically, “What, are we just going to cross ‘Banshee’ off the hull and scribble ‘Noonan’s Slave’ overtop? Just exactly what ‘services’,” Vorezze made little air quotes, “can you provide that would convince Section 31 to give you-“
Before he could finish, Noonan had moved over the desk and pinned Vorezze to the ceiling. As he gasped for breath, Vorezze noticed that he was being held up by a single hand. Of course, he stopped paying attention as soon as he saw the look on Noonan’s face. The man’s lips were pulled back in a snarl, revealing a pair of sharp fangs. His violet eyes blazed, and his expression, so calm and relaxed a moment ago, was now one of indescribable rage.
Vorezze wet himself.
“I DON’T HAVE TIME TO PLAY GAMES!” Noonan snarled, “YOU WILL SET COURSE FOR WAYSTATION! NOW!”
And suddenly he was back on the other side of the desk, standing as calmly as you please. Vorezze was back in his chair, as though nothing had happened, but he could still feel a dull ache where Noonan’s cold, hard hand had been. Also the wetness around his crotch.
“I have many talents to offer Section 31,” Noonan said calmly, “And if it will save my former shipmates, then I will offer them.” He looked thoughtful, “For a time, anyway.”
With that, he turned and stepped out.
“And I thought Charlotte’s PMS was bad,” Vorezze muttered to himself.
Noonan strode through the bridge of the Banshee and into the port turbolift. He hadn’t enjoyed tormenting Captain Vorezze at all. He found such actions deeply distasteful. Still, he had lost too much time already. Turning to Section 31, one of the few divisions within Starfleet that was aware of the existence of supernatural beings such as himself, was truly a last resort.
He only hoped that Stafford, Wowryk and the rest were still alive to appreciate the trouble he was going to on their behalf.
“Welcome to Quali-Tech, company of the future. During this brief and informative training video, you will learn everything you need to know to be a happy, profitable and living employee,”
The Hazardous Team, along with about a dozen Matrian civilians, had been ‘processed’ by their new employers. Stern had never worked for a civilian company before, but he was pretty sure that most companies didn’t attach explosive, escape-prevention neck braces on their employees. No sooner had they been scanned and tagged than they were pushed into a bland, tan-coloured classroom and strapped into uncomfortable seats. No sooner had the guards moved to the back of the room than the large screen on the front wall came to life, showing a smiling, Qu’Eh female. Marsden couldn’t help but notice that she was dressed in Matrian-style clothing, leading him to wonder if they Qu’Eh had actually custom-made this video for a Matrian audience. Stern couldn’t help but notice that she had to be at least a D-cup.
“Why do companies always say they’re the ‘Company of the Future’?” Simmons demanded loudly, making little air quotes. There was a zap as an electrode in his chair delivered a powerful electric shock.
“No talking during the video,” declared one of the guards.
“Here at Quali-Tech, we believe the customer comes first. Our highest goal is to ensure that each customer encounter with Quali-Tech reflects only the highest standards of quality,”
On the screen, happy, smiling employees were seated at rows of workstations, speaking through implanted headsets.
“The key member of your Quali-Tech Team will be your supervisor,”
The video zoomed in on a smiling Qu’Eh man with a gold sigil on his implant. As they watched, the video supervisor exchanged encouraging words with a video employee, both grinning like fools at the end.
“Your supervisor is there to help you ensure that only the highest quality service is provided to our customers by you, our valued employees,”
Now the screen changed to show employees relaxing in a comfortable-looking lounge. A vid-screen played on one wall while a cheery girl in a red outfit sold snacks and hot beverages behind a counter.
“And don’t forget about our fantastic break room, work schedule and benefits program.”
With that, the video ended.
“Whoah, what kind of benefits program?” one of the Matrians demanded.
“What kind of job are we doing, anyway?” another asked.
“We’re being paid for this, right?”
“Your supervisors will answer any further questions,” the guard grunted, pulling out his weapon and motioning for the door, “Let’s go,”
As they shuffled down the hall, Simmons stretched.
“I dunno, that doesn’t sound so bad,” he said.
“Oh, it’s bad,” Stern muttered, “Didn’t you study Earth history, from back before the Corporate Riots?”
“Angry mobs stringing up CEOs? Executives being burned at the stake? Managers drawn and quartered? Right around the beginning of World War III? None of this is ringing a bell?”
“Why is this important?” Rengs asked, adjusting the bandage on his nose.
“Because the differences between what employers promised, like that video, and the reality of the job, like we’re about to experience, is one of the reasons why the riots happened,” Stern sighed, “And from what I can piece together, we’re in the worst possible business when it comes to employees rights,”
“You mean living practically as slaves on an enemy-occupied world?” Marsden asked.
“Worse,” Stern said as the hallway opened up into a cavernous room filled with endless rows of workstations, “We’re in a call center,”
USS Banshee: Approaching Starbase Waystation
“Ok, I finished painting over our name on the hull,” Lt Commander Ben Rachow called over the comm, “now can I PLEASE come back in? The warp field is making everything out here taste purple!”
Seated next to Captain Vorezze in the chair usually occupied by Commander Burns, Commander Matthew Noonan raised an eyebrow.
“I’m impressed, Captain,” he said, “I knew Section 31 had access to advanced propulsion technologies-“
“Which is why we’re arriving at Waystation now instead of a week from now, you’re welcome very much,” Vorezze cut in.
“-but I didn’t realize those advances had reduced the neurological trauma that such raw exposure to warp-field radiation could cause, to the point where your crewmembers can safely survive exposure.”
Vorezze looked slightly uncomfortable.
“Uh, well, you learn something new every day,”
“I’d like to learn how a lowly Starfleet officer has the power to kick me out of my chair,” Charlette fumed, standing behind Noonan.
“Anybody has that power,” Captain Velorn said, “But, given the various organisms present on your body, it takes great bravery to actually exercise that power,”
“Take us out of warp,” Vorezze ordered.
There was a scream from the comm-channel.
“I guess we should have beamed Rachow back inside before we did that,” Commander Smith grunted.
“Is he going to be OK?” DiSanto asked.
Dr. Lang consulted the sensors.
“He’s been thrown off the hull,” she reported, “But at the speed he’s moving, he’ll be fine,”
“F**k,” Vince muttered softly.
“We’ll pick him up on the way out,” Vorezze shrugged.
Aboard Waystation, Captain Lisa Besk was faced with an angry mob.
“Look,” she said, “I don’t know why he ordered it. Or what the deal is. But Admiral Tunney has ordered that none of you are to leave this station without his express authority!”
“We’ve been waiting here for three weeks!” cried Captain Simplot, the female commander of the USS Stallion,”
“We know,” Waystation Security Chief Russell said dryly, “Your Hermat officer has been thrown in the brig three weekends in a row now,”
“And you’ve slept with hier every time, so quit your bitching!” Simplot snapped.
“We are accomplishing nothing,” declared Captain Jacob Sybil of the Proxima-class USS Champlain, “Our crews are going stir-crazy, packed into this station!”
“Admiral Tunney has us cooling our heels here until he can find a Sovereign-class ship,” snorted Captain Coté of the Excelsior-class USS Vendome, “Sovereign-class ships don’t just pop up whenever you need them!”
“Captain Beck, we’ve got the USS Medusa requesting permission to dock,”
“An unschedualed arrival? Perfect.” Beck sighed, fighting off the beginning of a major headache. “I don’t suppose she’s a Soverign-class, huh?”
There was a thud as a space-suited figure crashed against the broad window looking out into space.
“She is,” Morales finished.
Thirty minutes and an emergency medical and window-wiping team later, Beck and Morales were looking out the window as the fleet of ships pulled away from the station, bound for Matria Prime.
“I have never seen a group of starship captains race out of Ops that quickly before, ever,” Beck said flatly.
“Not even when Porter had that irritable bowel thing going on,” Morales agreed.
“There’s something fishy about this whole thing though,” Beck shook her head, “I’ve never heard of a ship named the Medusa being launched. And why was Silverado’s old First Officer with them?”
“And why does it look like somebody just spray-painted ‘Medusa’ overtop of something else?” Morales wondered, squinting at the huge Soverign-class ship as it eased past the Ops tower, “I can almost make it out…USS Bayoncee?”
There was a shimmer of transporter sparks, then Lt. Cmdr Rachow materialized in the center of Ops, fiddling with some kind of device.
“Ok, I hit the window at 1550h, it’s now 1624, so subtract, borrow from the 1…”
The memory-erasure device in his hands flashed, dazzling everybody in Ops…including Rachow.
“What was I saying?” Beck wondered, looking over to Morales,”
“I don’t know,” Morales shrugged, “Why are all those ships leaving, again?”
“Who am I?” Rachow wondered, just before vanishing in another transporter beam.
“We have Rachow back,” Smith reported, “But he seems to have forgotten to look away from the mind-wiper.”
“Moron,” Lang sighed, “I told you I should have been the one to do it,”
“Rachow insisted, for some reason,” Vorezze shrugged.
“In any event, you will have plenty of time to rehabilitate him before we arrive at Matria Prime,” Noonan said.
“Great. Two weeks of utter boredom,” Vince said.
“My first trip in this direction took over a month,” Noonan said, “Of course, it would have been a matter of weeks if our plumbing hadn’t exploded, crippling our ship.”
“I doubt we’ll be having any problems like that,” Vorezze said confidently.
Deep in the fabric of Charlotte’s seat, there was life.
Tiny insect eggs, a strain of Klingon parasites, had been deposited weeks ago by an unknowing Commander Burns after a rather…un-officer-like evening involving a Klingon security team. The eggs had lay dormant, rendered inert by the strong chemicals Burns had had to use to remove the parasite. Now, however, the miniscule life inside the eggs could sense new blood. Powerful blood. With savageness only Klingon wildlife can possess, the eggs hatched.
“I’d like to begin the planning phases of our assault tomorrow,” Noonan was saying, “Of course, you will have to rely on Starfleet-level weaponry.” He frowned.
“Something wrong?” Vorezze asked.
“I do not think so,” Noonan said, “But…this chair…it’s giving a sensation that I don’t recognize.”
“I can give you a lot of sensations you wouldn’t recognize,” Burns purred, laying one poorly-manicured hand on Noonan’s shoulder.
Noonan recoiled. Never before had a human put him so badly off his appetite.
“In any event,” he said, shaking her hand off, “I shall retire for the time being.”
He left, unaware he was now carrying a few extra passengers.
“Thank you for comming GalactiCast, you’ve reached David, how may I assist you today?” Stern said, speaking as clearly as possible. The stupid neck brace was itching. Thank God the Qu’Eh were experiencing a shortage of headset implants! All the new call center employees were ‘stuck’ with old-style, non-implanted headsets.
“Yes, my holo-vision receiver stopped working last night, and I need if fixed,”
“Oh, I can certainly help you with that,” Stern said, reading line for line off the viewscreen in front of him, “May I get the serial number?”
As he started to key in the code, his display split into a highly complicated flow chart. From his current position of ‘Device Malfunction - Enter Serial’ he could potentially go down to ‘Replace Device (500 credits, 3 week wait), ‘Replace Device (warranty, 9 week wait), ‘Attempt Reboot’ and ‘Attempt Repairs’. (Both of the last two weaved through a few boxes before flowing back up to the ‘Replace Device’ tree.) As he keyed in the last digit, the ‘Replace Device, 500 credits’ flow line illuminated.
“Uh, we need to send you a replacement receiver. But since you’re out of warranty, it’s going to cost 500 credits.” Stern read.
The rest of the conversation went, predictably, downhill. The now-irate customer was taking Stern all over his customer-handling flowchart, but it seemed like almost every branch terminated with ‘I’m sorry, that’s against company policy,’
Finally, the exasperated woman fired off a final comment regarding his parentage and hung up.
Stern let his forehead fall to the desk.
“That has to have been the worst conversation of my life,”
“Yes, but your quality score was a three, which means you’re already meeting the basic standard!” an exited voice said behind him.
Stern turned to face his supervisor, a Qu’Eh by the name of Mofuut.
“How the hell can that be a quality call?” he demanded, “She was ready to skin me alive!”
“Yes,” Mofuut smiled, “But you followed the client’s call flow perfectly. I’m submitting your call recording to GalactiCast for assessment, I’m sure they’ll be pleased that our new employee training is so effective!”
“Um great,” Stern was feeling another rumble in his stomach. Somebody was trying to contact him! “Look, my break was twenty minutes ago, and…”
“Oh, you missed it because of that call? No problem, you’ve got another coming up in four hours or so,”
“But I really gotta…” Stern crossed his legs.
“Fine,” Mofuut snapped, “But this is coming out of your call handle time!”
Stern rushed for the bathroom, found an empty stall, jammed his fingers down his throat and caught the miniature comm-badge with his teeth.
“No, I didn’t think Stern’s going to answer,” Stafford’s voice was coming from the tiny device, “But I was trying anyway. All I’m getting is really weird squishing sounds. No, I don’t want to try calling Dr. Wowryk again, she might be…BURKE! You’re supposed to be finding useful information in the MDHQ network, not checking out Crewman Gibson’s porn collection! Yeah, she does have a great rack, but that’s not the-“
“Nice tits are always the point,” Stern muttered to himself.
“STERN?” Stafford nearly squeaked in surprise, “Hey guys! We have a contact!”
“Now really isn’t a good time, Captain!” Stern said, “We’ve infiltrated the Qu’Eh call-center near Matronus,”
“What call-center?” Stafford asked, “Who’s ‘we’? Why are you-“
“Look, I don’t have much time,” Stern said, “The Qu’Eh are exploiting Matrians to staff this mega-sized call center near Matronus.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Just how out of touch have you people been?” Stern demanded.
“We’ve been in this bunker for the past three weeks!” Stafford snapped, “If you could give us even the tiniest hint of what’s going on out there…
“Dr. Wowryk is running our part of the rebellion from under Matronus. She says the Qu’Eh are holding the rest of the crew captive aboard Silveardo, but Jall broke her loose. They’re actually trying to fix the ship!
“Fix my ship?” Stafford’s voice was soft, unsure. Then he seemed to pull himself together.
“What have the Qu’Eh on the planet been doing?”
“Aside from arresting people, taking over the government and implanting people with those control devices? Oh, they were searching the caverns under the Matrian cities,” Stern remembered, “They were looking for intact M-SIDs”
“Ohh, not more people wanting to play mind games,” Stafford groaned.
“That’s exactly what they want, sir,” Stern said. Suddenly, two of the dots wandering around his mind were connected, “The way I see it, they want to put the M-SIDs in their call centers to force their employees to-“
“Just stop right there,” Stafford said, “You think they invaded an entire planet, at the cost of hundreds if not thousands of lives, just to get their hands on technology that would help them enslave and degrade their employees?”
“Not just that,” Stern said, “If they had an M-SID, they could convince all their employees just how wonderful their jobs were. Complete brainwashing.”
“K, but the Matrians destroyed the M-SIDs. Why haven’t the Qu’Eh left?”
“Because even without the M-SIDs, they just got their hands on an entire planet’s worth of potential employees,” Stern said.
“Um, wouldn’t they have enough people on their own planet?” Stafford asked.
“Sir, have you studied the Corporate Riots of Earth? If the Qu’Eh are running their people the same way…”
“They’d need entire planets of slaves just to handle employee turnover,” Stafford sighed.
The washroom door opened.
“Gotta go,” Stern hissed, closing the channel and swallowing the badge once again.
Several gruelling hours later, Stern and the HT found themselves on the street. Night had fallen, and the towers of downtown Matronus sparkled in the distance.
“Well now what?” Simmons asked, a slightly nasal whine in his voice.
“Now,” Stern sighed, “We either figure out how to get these braces off, or we show up for work on time tomorrow, or our heads explode.”
“Maybe this whole infiltration thing wasn’t the best idea,” Marsden sighed.
“No shit.” Rengs muttered.
“We learned a lot,” Stern said. He looked thoughtfully back at the Quali-Tech building. “We know one of the things that the Qu’Eh want from the Matrians.”
“And that means that now we know where to hit them,” he finished.
From an upper level of Quali-Tech, Chairman P’tarek looked out the window at the departing humans.
“When they tripped our bio-sensor alarm, I knew I had to escalate the matter immediately,” Manager Garer said, grovelling slightly, “Of course, I was sure to go through all the proper channels.”
“Indeed,” P’tarek said, “Most of our sensor systems can’t tell the difference between a Matrian and a human. It’s good to know that our employee screening is sensitive enough to do so. Of course, you installed tracking devices in their collars?”
“Of course,” Garer replied, “If you like, I can have a team chase them down immediately,”
“Don’t be foolish, Manager,” P’tarek said sharply, adjusting his cape, “This sort of…acquisition…takes time. I want you to track them, but only to track them. I want reports on where they go, what they do, and of course, if any of them show up late for work.”
“This will be reflected very favourably in your quarterly performance review, Manager,” P’tarek said, “Thanks to you, we’ll be able to track down Wowryk, the rebels,”
P’tarek’s eyes gleamed.
“Maybe even Stafford and Anselia themselves!”