Author: Brendan Chris
Matrian Installation 317
Around 200 years ago:
“Report status?” Colonel Myress Abela asked, stepping out of one of the central turbolifts into the Installation 317 Command Complex and taking the steps up to the second level two at a time.
“Nothing unexpected,” Sub-Commander Denisel Brekan called down from the command deck, “The materials shipment arrived half an hour ago.”
“The hull alloys for Shipyard 3?” Abela asked, running one hand on the railing as she walked along the ring-shaped second level, heading straight for the stairway leading up to the central command deck, parked right on top of the turbolift column. These new three-level command centers that Central Design was coming out were impressive, spacious, and had a great view of the outside. But they also involved a hell of a lot of walking. Plus, while it didn’t bother Abela, she was certain that some visitors would look out of the lower bank of curved windows, find themselves staring straight down along the sheer drop of the Command Tower and either vomit, scream or run cowering back to the turbolifts. Or all of the above.
“We’re in the process of transferring them to the shipyard, yes,” Brekan confirmed. She was seated at one of the pulpit-like control stations that ringed the command deck. The central holo-table was showing a news broadcast with the sound muted. The sunlight streaming in through the upper windows washed the image out slightly, but the images were still visible. Something about another declaration by the Male Rebellion. Whatever.
“Carry on,” Abela nodded. She looked down through the lower windows, into the cavernous expanse of the facility. The Matrian government was expending a ridiculous amount of resources constructing the place, and it showed. Light glinted off the lake, the surface of the water as smooth as glass. There was no wind in the massive inner chamber, and the wave generators that would eventually give the lake a more natural appearance were inactive. Hell, most of the facility was inactive, as construction was just wrapping up. But all that would change in a matter of weeks, once Installation 317 was unveiled to the Matrian people. For now, its existence remained a moderately well-kept secret. Its location, fortunately, was a much better kept secret.
“Colonel, you better listen to this,” Brekan said, restoring audio to the news feed.
“-just received confirmation from government sources that the message was received over two hours ago,” the female journalist was saying, “With confirmation that it originated from Den Omak, self-proclaimed Male Opposition to the Council of Mistresses.”
The image shifted to show a male Matrian. His eyes were cold and dark, his face twisted with rage.
“The refusal of this government,” he was saying, “to allow equal opportunity to the men of the Matrian Empire is a crime. It is a crime because you yourselves changed us, and made us what we are today. You changed us into what you thought the perfect male citizen would be, and now you refuse to let us take a role in leading our people in this new age. These crimes cannot be forgiven. Nor can they go unpunished.”
As she watched the man speak, Abela felt something cold in her belly. The words weren’t new. It was the same old garbage the Male Rebellion had been spouting for years. But something about this man, the conviction in his eyes…
“You have two hours,” he was now saying, “to submit to our demands. You will free all members of the Male Rebellion currently held captive. You will change the constitution of our government and hold an immediate round of elections, ensuring proportional male representation on the Council. If you do not submit to our demands, we will destroy Matronus.”
The recording ended.
The newswomen started commenting on the reaction in Matronus, the panic and the waves of shuttles departing the massive orbital habitat as terrified citizens tried to flee.
“They couldn’t destroy Matronus,” Brekan said, shaking her head, “Could they? I mean, it’s practically a city!”
“Silence!” Abela snapped.
“-received confirmation,” the newswoman went on, “Definite reports of problems in Matronus. Our own ground sensors are detecting unusual fluctuations in the habitat’s energy signature. We are attempting to contact our offices aboard Matronus for more information.”
The view shifted. One half now showed a view of the habitat, presumably taken from a nearby satellite. The other half showed a static-filled image of a woman. Behind her seemed to be a kind of lobby, with worried-looking people rushing around in the background.
“Officials refuse to comment,” the reporter was saying, her voice distorted, “But our sources say that there seems to be a problem with one of the antimatter reactors powering the habitat. Unconfirmed-“
The image of the reporter abruptly vanished. There was a blinding flash of light from the other screen. Both of the watching women shielded their eyes. As they glare faded they looked back, expecting the flash to have been due to the interference on the channel.
What they weren’t expecting to see was Matronus breaking apart, secondary explosions rippling across its bulk. Abela gasped in shock. Suddenly, a second blinding flash of light erupted, then a third. When they looked back again, the entire city had shattered, like a plate hit by a hammer.
“By the Gods,” Abela gasped.
“No!” Brekan gasped, “But…there were hundreds of thousands…maybe a million-“
“My parents-“ Abela’s throat chocked off. Her parents had moved to Matronus two years ago.
“How-“ Brekan started.
But she already knew. It was right there, for everybody to see. One of Matronus’ three antimatter reactors had detonated. That alone was enough to render the city uninhabitable. But the explosion had set off the remaining two reactors, completely destroying it.
Her panel beeped.
“I’m getting a communication from Defence HQ,” she said, her voice still shaking. Abelia was still staring at the screen, where the shocked newswoman was trying to compose herself.
“On display,” she ordered. She wanted the newswoman gone. She wanted her gone before she could start talking about the massacre they’d just witnessed. The cold in her gut had been replaced with a sickness. A wave of nausea washed over her, her vision wavering as the world spun around her.
“It’s a text-only message.” Brekan said, “We…we’ve declared war. The Council of Mistresses has already made the announcement. The fleet is gearing up to wipe the rebels out. They’re instructing all males to remain at home, and to submit to any questionings or protective custodies ordered by local authorities,”
“That was fast,” Abela said softly, still in shock. In fact, it was very fast. TOO fast. How could the Council have been able to react so quickly?
For that matter, why hadn’t the Council been on Matronus when it exploded?
Now was not the time for such thoughts.
“Instruct the shipyards to gear up for full production,” she ordered, “Start fueling the fighters and attack ships in the hanger bays.”
“Belay that,” Brekan said before any of the other officers in the command center could react.
“What?” Abela snapped, spinning to face her.
“Our orders,” Brekan said, staring at her screen, “Are for an immediate lockdown. We are to cease all activity, evacuate all personnel and follow procedure 23-B,”
“Do they say WHY we’re doing something that STUPID?” Abelia snarled, leaning over Brekan’s shoulder.
“They do.” Brekan pointed.
“A computer virus,” Abela read from the display, her blood running cold. It was just minutes after the explosion, and they already knew a computer virus had destroyed Matronus. The virus had worked its way into the computer systems and caused the detonation of one of the three power cores.
Matronus, like all orbital stations and satellites, constantly transmitted telemetry to Matrian Space Operations. It wasn’t unusual that the MSO would be able to quickly analyze data from an orbital accident and come to a rapid conclusion as to its cause. But this was suspiciously quick, especially given the fast reaction of the Council.
Abela pushed those thoughts to the side. The bigger issue was the virus itself. If the Male Rebellion had such a weapon, then they could destroy any government facility that contained its own power core. Ships, research stations, shipyards.
Or Installation 317.
Procedure 23, Abela recalled, called for a complete shutdown of all systems, the initiation of camouflage procedures, and preparations for a long period of dormancy. Variant ‘B’ was to be used in the event of cyber-terrorism, or a cyber-attack. It called for an extreme lockdown of all computer and control systems.
“Evacuate the main chamber,” Abela ordered through dry lips, “Prepare to purge the atmosphere and replace it with a preservative mix. What’s the status on our sensor-jamming fields?”
“They’ve been running since construction on the installation started,” Brekan reported, “And they’re still fine,”
“Polarize any exposed areas,” Abela said, “Switch all power over to geo-thermal systems,”
“But we just got main power up last week!” Brekan objected.
“I want those reactors offline and in a state of cold shutdown,” Abela said sharply. She had downloaded the full message from command, along with the step-by-step instructions for Procedure 23-B. “This installation just became an emergency bunker,” she said.
“There’s one more thing,” Brekan said, reading a second message from Defence HQ.
“There’s going to be more than that in the next few days,” Abela said darkly.
“They’re sending us a prisoner,” Brekan said, “They captured him during a raid on a rebel cell. They want him kept out of sight until they decide what to do about him.”
“If they bring him here, he’s going to be packed away for a very long time,” Abela mused. She looked out the upper windows. Already, the sun was being obscured as the sand blowing over the installation was attracted to the polarized outer surfaces. The place had already been sensor-shielded. Within a day, it would be buried under at least a foot of sand. Descending to the second level, Abela looked out the lower windows. The main cavern was dimming, the massive illumination panels arching up the ceiling shutting down. She couldn’t see the nitrogen gas flooding the chamber, but in her mind she could imagine it, like a dark cloud, obscuring everything they’d built.
If the men and women of the Matrian Empire were now at war, their civilization was in a lot of trouble. Few people in the Empire knew the purpose of Installation 317, and even fewer knew its exact location. If the war went badly, it could be a very long time before anybody stepped foot here again.
If things went very badly, Installation 317 would become the last, buried trace of a destroyed civilization.
Outside the Command Tower, the main chamber went black.
Matrian Installation 317
The Invasion of Matria Prime - +20 Days
Captain Christopher Stafford stood, stretched and kicked the covers off of the double bed he’d been sleeping in. Yawning and working the kinks out of his back, he padded towards the washroom. After fiddling around with the strange Matrian plumbing for a few moments he managed to get the hot water running in the shower and stepped in.
Over the course of the last week or so, life in the underground Matrian installation had been completely transformed. After Valtaic had figured out how to bypass the manual locking mechanism on the doors, and after Fifebee had been restored to normal functioning, they’d begun the process of opening up and exploring some of the locked-up portions of the installation. Unfortunately, they were still coming up against three major obstacles:
One: Huge areas of the facility were flooded with nitrogen and other inert gases. Fifebee believed this had been done to preserve sensitive areas during the centuries-long lockdown. Whatever the reason, since nobody had bothered to bring environmental suits and since they hadn’t found the local equivalent yet, those areas were inaccessible.
Two: The computer systems simply refused to accept any input. Period. Craigan, the Matrian male who’d been in stasis in the facility for close to two hundred years, had shown them a few things about Old Matrian technology, but ultimately it hadn’t proven useful.
Three: The place was massive. Even with most of Silverado’s crew and the Matrian refugees, it was taking a very long time just to map and catalogue the areas that were accessible.
Still, progress was being made. Three days ago they’d been able to access a second tower above the transit hub. The main tower they’d found and unofficially dubbed the ‘Command Tower’ had been centered exactly over the hub and had contained the installation control center, along with dozens of levels worth of offices and laboratories, in addition to several areas whose purposes were not immediately apparent. The second tower was separate from the Transit Hub structure. One of the main stairways in the hub had led to a passagway that led to the base of this tower, but the doorways leading from the stairway into the tower itself had been sealed. Once Valtaic had cracked the doors opened, they’d found that the tower seemed to contain living quarters. Very nice living quarters, actually. The three-meter ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and pleasant décor had been a definite improvement over the cots and bedrolls the Starfleet crew had been using at their main camp, situated on balconies and tram platforms in the cavernous Transit Hub. The second T’Parief had declared the residential tower safe, Stafford had moved the entire Starfleet camp into the nearly luxurious new quarters. In the time since, two more residential towers and two more office towers had been located. Part of him worried about the image he was presenting to the Matrians, however. They’d already discovered that the Command Tower, the Transit Hub and whatever facilities/buildings surrounded them were located on an island in the center of an underground lake, accessible only by six bridges over which the installations automated tram system crossed. Here he was, keeping his people holed up right next to the command and control center, while the Matrians were over a kilometer and a half away, on the outer edge of the installation.
Not that the Starfleet contingent was the only group benefitting from improved living accommodations.
Out at the outer rim of the facility, explorations had been progressing at a much quicker pace. This was partly due to the large number of Matrian refugees, but more so because the layout of the outer rim had been found to follow a repetitive pattern. The shipyard found by Lieutenant Yanick during her kidnapping had proven to be one of six such shipyards evenly spaced around the outer circumference of the installation. Between every pair of shipyards were two smaller hanger bays, themselves spanning at least ten levels. The remaining space along the outer rim was a maze of cargo facilities, security checkpoints and almost every kind of room imaginable.
The interesting discovery for the Matrians living out on the rim had come a day before the Starfleet group had found the residential tower. One of the Matrian teams, in an effort to locate an alternate route to the central island of the facility, had found that the inner wall of the outer rim was comprised largely of living quarters.
A little bit of geometry and math, and it was easy to figure out that the place had been meant to hold a LOT of people.
Finishing his shower, Stafford dried off and dressed in his uniform. It was the same one he’d been wearing since the Qu’Eh invasion, and the colours were fading. But still, at least now he could clean the damned thing.
Pushing the door open (the automatic systems still weren’t working) he stepped out into the dimly lit corridor. As he walked to the stairway, he mused for at least the tenth time that if the lights were on full and the turbolifts were running, this would actually be a really nice place.
So why had the Matrians buried it, then erased all records of its existence?
“Good morning everybody,” Stafford said pleasantly, walking into the command center. Taking the steps two at a time, he quickly made his way to the command deck.
“Greetings,” Fifebee replied, “I am delighted to see that sleeping in a real bed again has done much to improve your mood,”
“If you slept, Fifebee, you’d understand,” Stafford replied.
The holographic officer didn’t look away from her terminal.
Three of the control pulpits, along with the central holo-table, were now active. Unfortunately, they were no longer connected to the installation’s computer system. Instead, they were connected to the small Federation computer core a band of Matrian rebels had brought to the facility. Fifebee, Jeffery and Valtaic were using the core to, among other things, build a map of the facility.
“We found another tower,” Jeffery said, “Y’know, while ye were havin’ a lay-in,”
“Hey, we’re underground. How do you know whether I’m sleeping in or not?” Stafford objected.
“I have an internal chronometer,’ Fifebee stated flatly.
“Oh. Right. What kind of tower?”
“Dunno,” Jeffery said.
“Office,” Fifebee said at the exact same time.
“Ye can’t know that!” Jeffery objected, “Valtaic’s gettin’ into one of the stairway’s right now. Once he’s in there, he’ll tell us what it is.”
Fifebee tapped her panel. On the holo-table, the growing map of the facility was displayed. Fifebee zoomed into the center of the hologram, centering on the hexagon-shaped Command Tower sitting on a broad, hexagon-shaped base. Six tram tracks converged on the base, each disappearing into tunnels evenly spaced on the sides. This broad base evidently contained the Transit Hub and surrounding facilities. Six towers, their shapes indistinct, rose from the upper surface of the hub, forming half a ring around the Command Tower.
“The towers we found at the two, four and six o’clock positions were residential towers,” Fifebee stated, “While the towers at the one and three o’clock were office or administration towers. As the new building is located at the five o’clock position, it is likely-“
“OK, fine.” Jeffery cut her off, then turned to Stafford, “Can’t we put a little Sylvia back in her? She was so much nicer like that!”
“I’d rather keep myself in one piece, thank you, Simon,” Sylvia’s voice rang out. The little neutronium box containing her core gel-pack and related processing nodes was also connected to the computer core.
“In fact,” Fifebee went on, ignoring Jeffery, “I suspect we will find a total of twelve buildings; six residential and six administrative. Given the Matrian fascination with multiples of three and six, and the-“
“Jeffery to Valtaic,” Jeffery said, tapping his comm-badge.
“Talk to me. Ah need to hear a voice that isn’t coming from a computer,”
“Hey!” Stafford objected, “What am I, a robot?”
“I am trying to concentrate on opening a door at the moment, Lt. Commander,” Valtaic sounded annoyed, “If you simply wish to engage in social niceties, may I suggest that you are, as you say, barking up the wrong tree?”
“Ah just can’t win!” Jeffery groaned.
“Had you bet on this being an administrative tower, you would have won,” Valtaic’s voice came back through the channel, “It appears to be very similar to the towers found at the one and three-“
“Jeffery out,” Jeffery cut the channel.
There was a moment of silence as Fifebee keyed the new information into the computer.
“So what else is on the agenda for today?” Stafford asked.
“You’re the Captain,” Jeffery said, “Or the Minister of Planetary Defence, dependin’ on who ye ask.”
“I don’t think Queen Anselia cares much about my opinion on planetary defence right now,” Stafford frowned, “Not since she got her new little rebel leader,”
The Silverado officers had found a Matrian named Craigan in stasis in a laboratory deep in the Command Tower. Nobody, including Craigan, knew why exactly he was there, but he’d kidnapped Yanick and tried to force his way out. Once he’d been made to understand that the Male Rebellion was long over and that his planet had been invaded, Craigan had agreed to work with the present-day Matrians to ferment rebellion against the Qu’Eh.
“Craigan did give us something useful,” Jeffery said, walking over the computer core, “Ye remember when he kidnapped Yanick, we had those two anomalous data transfers?”
“Not really, but I’ll take your word for it,” Stafford said.
“Well, ye see, we knew we had a data feed from somewhere, sendin’ us sensor data,” Jeffery said.
“Yeah, you guys watched the whole battle from down here. Or T’Parief did anyway.”
“Well, Craigan showed us where the Old Matrian put their security readers.” Stepping over to one of the inactive control pulpits, Jeffery ran a hand under one of the panels. After a moment, the computer displayed his identity, along with an ‘Access Denied’ error.
“How does the computer know who you are?” Stafford asked
“Well, the central computers in Matrian Defence HQ were loaded with security profiles for all Silverado crewmembers. Standard procedure for a member planet, so local authorities can verify our credentials and stuff.”
“You’re going to have to tell me why this is important,”
“If this sensor feed is a two-way data link to the Defence HQ computers, we can tap right in, and get whatever information we need,” Jeffery said, “Maybe even access to comm channels,”
That caught Stafford’s attention.
“Well, unless they follow the cable for about four thousand kilometres…”
“How do you know it’s untraceable,” Stafford demanded.
Jeffery and Fifebee exchanged a glance, then looked at him.
“Would you like us to explain the technological whys and where-to-fors of the matter in detail, or would you simply like to accept the expert opinion of two highly trained individuals?” Fifebee asked conversationally.
“Would it be a long, boring explanation?” Stafford asked.
“Only if you find data transmission, network node shadowing and optical routing to be of interest.” Fifebee replied.
“OK, it’s untraceable.” Stafford nodded, “Looks like we need to have a little chat with Queen Anselia.”
“After your security check,” Jeffery reminded him.
“Right,” Stafford sighed, “Goody. An all-expense paid trip to the outer rim. Then allllll the way back here again. And then a chat with politicians.”
“The exercise is good for you, Chris,” Sylvia piped up.
“Blah,” Stafford grumbled, moving cautiously down the steps to the turbolifts.
Aboard a Qu’Eh vessel high in orbit over Matria Prime, Commander San Jall was sprawled out on his prison cot, smugly contemplating existence. It had been well over a week now since his capture by the Qu’Eh, and his promised torture still had yet to begin. Well, unless you counted being locked in a small room, being forced to complete reams of paperwork and eating incredibly bland Qu’Eh food as torture.
Come to think of it, the paperwork WAS bordering on torture. Strangely, it was Jall’s decision to have a bit of fun with said paperwork that had, in the end, saved his life.
There was a hiss as his cell door opened. Supervisor Neum stepped in, a pinched expression on her face. Her Qu’Eh implant shone as if freshly polished, reflecting the boring tan colours used in the Qu’Eh ships. Jall’s own implant had been deactivated after he’d been ‘fired’ from his job as Manager of the Resource Reclamation, the new Qu’Eh name for the captured USS Silverado.
“Mr. Jall, there seems to still be a few problems with your paperwork. Again.” she said, sounding like Dr. Wowryk giving a review of the latest Risan pornographic holo-novel.
“Really?” Jall said, his voice full of fake concern, “Oh dear. What’s wrong?”
“It seems,” Neum said, referring to the forms Jall had filled out a few days prior, “that ‘Death by Chocolate’ is not a valid selection for ‘Preferred Method of Death,”
“But you have to admit,” Jall quipped, “It does sound good,”
“And under ‘Most Unpleasant Form of Torture’ you put down ‘Being forced to watch all twenty Transformers movies’.”
“Well,” Jall said, “I admit the special effects aren’t bad. But the storylines? The plot- holes? If that isn’t torture, sweetie, then I don’t know what is!”
“Mr. Jall, if you’re not going to take this process seriously, we’re never going to get anything accomplished!”
“I’m taking it as seriously as I possibly can, Jall said truthfully.
“Last week, your preferred death method was ‘Death by Orgasm!’” Neum screamed, slamming the data padd onto the small table.
“Yeah. Can you imagine a better way to go?”
“You will have to fill out ALL of these forms again!” Neum snapped, slapping a stylus down next to the padd, “You’ve set our prisoner processing back at least another week!”
“Oh my,” Jall tried to keep a straight face, “Well, I’ll try to get it right this time,”
“See that you do!”
With that, Neum stormed out of the cell.
“Wow,” Jall shook his head, “I don’t know what the Qu’Eh have been doing for the past few decades, but torturing prisoners sure isn’t it!” He frowned. “Or maybe it is. At this rate, I’ll be here for a decade.”
Deciding that talking to himself was a sign that he’d been locked in that little room too long, he picked up the stylus and padd, quickly located the ‘Preferred Method of Death’ section, checked off ‘Other’ and entered in ‘Death by Fellatio’.
Some time later, Craigan and Queen Anselia stepped out into the command complex of the underground installation. Stafford and his officers were gathered back around the upper- level holo-table, co-ordinating the search.
“We have named this place,” Anselia said regally, looking up towards the command deck. Stafford popped his head over the railing, was overcome by a wave of vertigo and pulled back until only his eyes were showing.
“Really?” he squeaked, “Whatcha calling it?”
“Haven,” Anselia said proudly.
Up on the command deck, Stafford turned back to face his people.
“What is she saying?” Valtaic asked, looking only moderately interested.
“She wants to call this place ‘Haven’,” Stafford said.
Valtaic looked thoughtful.
“I approve,” he said, “It is simple, to the point, accurate, and does not include pointless sub-designations,”
“She’s the queen of the planet,” Jeffery said, “Ah don’t think she was askin’ for yer approval,”
“Does anybody object?” Stafford asked.
“Does anybody really give a shit one way or another?”
Shrugging, Stafford leaned back over the railing, again cursing whoever decided to put a two-story drop in the middle of a command centre.
“Sounds good,” he called.
“We are queen of this planet,” Anselia muttered as she climbed the steps to the second level, “We were not asking for your approval,”
“Because he’s a man?” Craigan asked as he followed her.
“Because I am queen, and he is one of my ministers,” Anselia replied.
“Whom you happen to be bedding.”
“So if you weren’t sleeping with him, would his opinion matter?”
“Hey, c’mon people,” Stafford said, now less than a level above them, “I’m right here, OK?”
“Chris, don’t get emotional on me,” Anselia said, “Craigan has been asking many…questions…regarding the interactions between men and women since he began working with us.”
“Trying to decide whether or not to start a new Male Rebellion?” T’Parief asked pointedly.
“Down, big guy,” Stafford muttered.
“One rebellion at a time,” Craigan said. Anselia’s eyes flickered briefly in his direction, but she said nothing.
“Speaking of rebellions,” Stafford said, trying to keep the conversation in friendly territory, “How are your plans going?”
“We have many plans,” Craigan said mysteriously.
There was a moment of silence.
“Such as?” T’Parief prompted.
“Well, we’ve considered co-ordinated strikes against Qu’Eh landing sites,” Craigan said.
“We just don’t know where the landing sites are, or how we’d get anybody there. Or, for that matter, who to send in to do the actual striking,” Anselia sighed.
“We have considered using the attack ships here to target individual Qu’Eh vessels,” Craigan went on.
“Except,” Fifebee cut in, “that any ships leaving this facility,”
“Haven,” Anselia interrupted.
“Any ships leaving,” Fifebee’s eyes glanced over to Anselia, “Haven…risk exposing it. In addition, your entire fleet couldn’t take out the Qu’Eh force. A few attack ships would be annihilated.”
“That’s it?” Stafford asked, incredulous, “You two have been out there in the hanger bays scheming for a couple of weeks now and you haven’t managed to come up with anything usable?”
“Neither have you,” Anselia said pointedly.
“Actually, Craigan helped us out with something,” Stafford said. He ran his hand along one of the hidden security readers on one of the inactive control pulpits. The display came to life, displayed ‘Access Denied’ in Matrian, and then went dead.
“See,” Jeffery went on, “if Ah can tap our little computer core here into the data line, we just may be able to match protocols with the source system back in Matrian Defence HQ. We could get news feeds, comm channels, maybe even-“
Anselia, curious, had located the reader on another inactive pulpit and swiped her hand. The display screen lit up.
Jeffery’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
“What did ye do?” he snapped, rushing over and practically shoving Anselia out of the way.
“Simon,” Stafford said carefully, “Please don’t push the world leader around,”
Anselia was giving Jeffery a very dark look. He ignored her.
“Quick,” Jeffery snapped, “Ah need somebody that speaks Matrian!” He pointed at the screen, “What does all this mean?”
Anselia looked down her nose at him.
“We will not assist you until you learn proper etiquette and protocol!” she said coldly.
“Anselia, your Majesty, please!” Stafford pleaded, “This could be important!”
Anselia regarded Stafford for a moment then nodded at Craigan. He and Jeffery huddled over the console for several minutes.
“Access is still limited,” Jeffery finally reported, “It’s like…Ah dunno. It’s like we’ve opened the door, but nobody’s home. We’ve got options…see this?” he pointed at a large, circular icon in the upper corner of the screen, “This initiates the activation sequence for the whole facility! It’s just not an available function. It’s like…the computer is still waiting for security verification.” He swiped his hand along the reader. The screen flashed red for a moment, then returned to whatever screen it was Anselia had unlocked.
“Who would have higher-level access then the Queen of the planet?” Stafford muttered.
“Maybe it is a military precaution,” T’Parief spoke up, breaking his lengthy silence, “As Minister of Defense, are you not the Commander in Chief of the Matrian DF?”
“Well no, the Queen is,” Stafford grunted. He ran his hand over the scanner. The screen paused for a moment, then flashed red and returned to the familiar lock-out screen.
“If everything remains locked, then what access was granted?” Valtaic asked.
“Give me a few hours, and Ah’ll tell ye,” Jeffery shrugged.
“Craigan, you will assist him,” Anselia ordered. “Chris, you will accompany us. We must speak. There are tasks to be completed.”
“So are we making decisions about the fate of your people, or about whether to go missionary or doggy this time?” Stafford asked, following Anselia as she stepped out of the command tower turbolift and into a corridor leading out over the transit hub.
“The fate of our people,” Anselia said curtly, brushing an errant strand of hair back into place, “Since when do we ever permit you to make decisions about sex?”
“Too true,” Stafford muttered.
“The Council has decided that this inaction is intolerable,” Anselia said, “We must do something. We cannot continue waiting for your ships, if they are in fact coming,”
“We’ve been over this a million times,” Stafford groaned, “The Qu’Eh will detect any ships leaving this facility-“
“Haven,” Anselia said firmly.
“Leaving Haven,” Stafford rolled his eyes.
“Then your people will have to find a way to duplicate the sensor jamming used by Haven,” Anselia said simply, “And we expect you to establish whatever kind of data link you can, now that you are learning more about Haven’s technology.”
Stafford gave out a sort of whine, of the kind you might expect from a child being told to do his chores.
“Anselia, it’s just not worth the risk,” he said, “There are hundreds of millions of Matrians out there. What makes you think the few thousand people we’ve got locked up underground here can make any difference?”
Anselia seemed to waver.
“The Council has decided that we need to do more to encourage resistance,” she said flatly.
“But you don’t agree, do you?” Stafford pounced.
“Our people, whether they are resisting or not, still need a government,” Anselia said sharply.
“They’ve got one. That’s why we left Laurette in charge,” Stafford said, “Look, you and I, we planned this out to be a long wait. Stick with the plan!”
“The plan is taking too long,” Anselia sniffed. They’d descended down to the main concourse of the transit hub, where the tram was waiting in its berth.
“Look, your Majesty,” Stafford said firmly, “We’ve got to balance risks, returns and consequences here. And can you honestly say that speeding up action against the Qu’Eh is worth the chance of them finding what may be the last relic of your old Empire? Or your last historically accurate computer records?”
Anselia hesitated, and Stafford knew he’d just hit her right where it hurt.
“We will…encourage the council to reconsider,” she said frostily.
She suddenly lunged at Stafford and grabbed him by the shirt.
“But first, you need to be put in your place!”
Up on one of the balconies overlooking the rings of transit tracks in the hub, Crewman Shwaluk leaned against the railing and turned to Crewman Gibson.
“You think the Captain remembers that those trams have huge windows?” he asked.
“I don’t think he has much choice either way,” Gibson said, viewing the scene playing out below them, “When the tram’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’!”
For the next several hours, Jeffery, Craigan and Valtaic hunched over the control pulpit, trying to figure out just what exactly Anselia unlocked. In retrospect, Jeffery was kicking himself for not trying her sooner. After all, if the system was getting its clearance information from the central Matrian Defence HQ, who else could have had a higher access level than the queen? (Valtaic would have been kicking himself, but in his culture, sharp releases of electrical current were preferred.)
But why hadn’t she been able to unlock the entire facility? Had she even unlocked anything important?
As it turned out, one of the systems unlocked was communications.
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.
“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, 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.”
Standing in the Haven command center, fully recovered from his encounter with Anselia, Stafford stared at Wowryk’s image on the holo-display with a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Jeffery, Valtaic,” he said quietly, “Start working on sensor jammers for the runabouts and the Matrian ships in the hanger bay. Fifebee, I want untraceable data links and communications lines through the Defence HQ systems, including access to interstellar communications. T’Parief, I want a security team ready for an extraction in twenty-four hours.”
He turned and hurried down the stairs to the second level, not even glancing at the dizzying drop.
“And where are ye going?” Jeffery asked.
“To talk to Anselia again,” Stafford replied, “Our plans just changed.”
Lead Qu’Eh Vessel:
Chairman P’tarek was seated as usual in his lavishly comfortable office chair. His office was a study in tackiness, containing things that in moderation would add class, but in excess simply looked garish. The faux wood paneling, the gleaming replicated gold trim, the overdone mood lighting and the huge desk combined to give the impression of a man who wanted to be seen as important, rather than giving the impression of actually being important.
Of course, since P’tarek was at the moment the imposed ruler of Matria Prime, he was at least moderately important.
“No, I insist that Matrian police handle the riot in J’Taeri,” he said into his earpiece, leaning back with his eyes closed, “Armed Qu’Eh guards will only legitimize their concerns, which would not be good for business,” With a minute twitch of his ear cartilage he switched to another channel, receiving an immediate report on the hiring progress for their new facility in Matronus. “Only 15,354 hired to date? Unacceptable. Our contract calls for 22,653, and the penalties involved are too great to risk being understaffed. Begin conscription of nearby residents. Remind them that continued existence is a contractually-granted concession to those who continue employment. No, I don’t think that threat is too subtle, I’m sure the Matrians can pick up on it. Finest quality to you as well.”
A soft beeping notified him that one of his assistants had a priority message for him. With an annoyed shake of his head, he switched channels.
“Chairman, finest quality to you. You should know that Silverado has received a response to their last transmission,”
P’tarek’s eyes flew open and he rocketed out of his chair.
“And?” he demanded.
“It says simply ‘Help is on the way’,”
P’tarek took a deep breath, his ear cartilage twining in irritation and bouncing him through half a dozen different data channels before he could bring himself under control. If the Starfleeters were telling the truth, and their ship was in fact only a moderately powerful Federation vessel…
“Get me a communications link to the Shareholders,” P’tarek said, “We’re going to need an additional investment of assets if this report is reliable.”
Stafford had taken the turbolift down the central tower to the lift atrium/lobby/whatever and nearly jogged down the corridor, across an enclosed bridge hugging the ceiling of the transit hub, down at least three flights of stairs and through another broad corridor and finally, breathing hard, onto the transit platform. Swearing when he noticed that the tram was gone, he started pacing, fuming over the idiot Matrian design. If this had been a ship or a starbase, he could have taken the damned lift all the way out to the hanger. Finally, an empty tram pulled up. He boarded, rode out to the outer rim, passing another tram on the way, jogged down another half dozen corridors and took another stairway up five levels to the hanger bay control booth that Anselia had co-opted as her new council chamber.
“Where’s Anselia?” he demanded, “We need to change our plans!”
Anselia’s advisors simply stared at him, then sighed.
Up in the command tower, Anselia emerged from the central turbolift cluster looking somewhat out of breath in her royal finery.
“Were is Minister Stafford?” she demanded, “We must speak to him immediately!”
“Oy vay,” Burke sighed, slapping a hand over his face.
After managing to miss each other twice more, Stafford and Anselia finally caught up to each other in the transit hub.
“We’ve got to change our plans,” Stafford said.
“Dr. Wowryk’s broadcast changes nothing,” Anselia said at the exact same moment.
They stared at each other for a moment.
“WHAT?” they both exclaimed.
“This isn’t going to be pretty, is it?” Crewman Shwaluk commented, still leaning on the railing overlooking the transit platform and the two arguing figures.
“No monkey, no it isn’t,” Crewman Gibson said back.
“Dude, don’t we have like, work or something we’re supposed to be doing?”
“Probably,” Gibson shrugged, “Do you care?”
“What do you mean it changes nothing?” Stafford snapped, “We just found out there’s an active rebellion out there! With my people involved, no less! We’ve got ships, supplies, and an un-findable hiding place! They need us!”
“Oh, this is coming from Minister ‘They-Must-Not-Find-Us’?” Anselia shot back, “Why is it that a few of your people are suddenly worth risking the knowledge and information stored in Haven’s memory banks?”
“Because…well…” Stafford stammered, “I mean, we know what’s going on out there now!”
“Yes, we do!” Anselia snapped, “Exactly what we had hoped would happen! If Wowryk is providing leadership to the rebels, she is becoming exactly the symbol that the council felt it had to become!”
“So now your council thinks it’s better to just sit safely on their collective asses while my doctor does their job?!” Stafford was shocked, “If we can get Wowryk out of there and in here, she can tell us all kinds of useful stuff about the Qu’Eh! She probably even knows what happened to the people I left on Silverado! You and I don’t even know what they’ve been doing all this time!”
“Can we not learn this from the data link you are establishing with Defence HQ?” Anselia raised one slim eyebrow, “Can your people not access Matrian DHQ files and reports?”
“Some of them,” Stafford conceded, “But anything that Dr. Wowryk doesn’t want the Qu’Eh to find out won’t be in there. We need to get her back, and if we can communicate with the Rebellion from here without being detected, we can really start causing trouble.”
“Yes, then the government AND the rebel leaders will be hiding here while other people take all the risks,” Anselia cocked her head, “I can see how the rebels will respect us for that,”
“Like they’ll respect us any more for hiding down here and staying TOTALLY out of the fight?” Stafford shot back.
“Admit it, Christopher,” Anselia said coldly, “If that transmission had been sent by a Matrian, you would not be so eager to ‘extract’ her. This is about getting all of your people out of harms way and into Haven,”
“Oh, yeah, and I’m also going to plan a prison break to get the people the Qu’Eh captured from Silverado when she was disabled,” Stafford snapped, “Then I’ll fly into orbit and get the ship too, then come single-handedly to the rescue. C’mon, Anselia, I’m not stupid! I’m doing what I think is best!”
“We do not dispute that,” Anselia said, “But we dispute your definition of ‘best’.”
“I want to get sensor-jamming working on one of our ships,” Stafford said, “I want to get lines of communication open, and I want to bring the leaders of the rebellion back here to help us run this show. This is the best thing for us to do!”
Anselia took a deep breath. He was basically shooting the council’s earlier demands back at her, while conveniently forgetting the arguments he’d used against her.
This was no longer a decision they could make on their own.
“We will consult with the Counsel,” she said.
Up until recently, the Matrian Council of Governors (at least the portion that had escaped) had been meeting in cramped locations around the Matrian hanger bay. Inside the cargo hold of a scout ship, up in the hanger bay control booth, or in a small machine shop just off the main level of the bay. Now that more of the outer rim of the installation had been explored, they’d decided to start convening in the large sports-bar type lounge overlooking the shipyard that Yanick had found over a week ago. The lights were dim and the entertainment console was locked, however the replicators functioned well enough to provide them with the hot beverages and pastries they so craved during their multi-hour sessions.
“The plan is sound,” declared Governor Kesthen, the dark-haired male representative from J’Taeri district, once Anselia had explained Stafford’s proposal.
“The plan is a Starfleet fantasy,” snapped Governor Hands, the blond man from Yutule district, “So long as this base-“
“Haven,” Anselia corrected.
“Whatever. So long as this base is secured, we’re safe. So is the past and the future of our people. To risk that is the ultimate stupidity,”
“You weren’t so resistant when we were trying to get communications lines open,” accused Governess Basette, a woman with raven-black hair and a somewhat plump build, “You think it’s a good idea to start tapping around MDHQ computers, right under the Qu’Eh noses, but actually getting out and involved is too big a risk?”
“Tapping around computers is a bit different from flying ships right in and out of our doorstep!”
“It’s our people living out at the Rim that need to worry,” Governess Samatat declared, “The Starfleeters are living on an island. Even if the Qu’Eh break down the hanger door, it would take ages for them to break through to the Starfleet camp!”
“-Matrian installation anyway,” somebody else shouted, “Why are we out living in the slums while they’re holed up in the power center?”
As the infighting continued, Anselia sighed. How had the discussion gone from discussing plans to help the rebellion to a dispute over living accommodations?
“We should demand that Starfleet trade places with us at once,” declared Samatat, “Put the soldiers out on the front lines, not the people!”
“Do we have a motion?” asked the Council Secretary.
“Counter-point!” Anselia snapped, “Have any of you actually explored the center island?”
Almost every member of the council held up a hand. Strange, even trapped underground they still seemed to have had time for their manicures.
“I mean other than poking your noses in the command center?”
All the hands dropped.
“And have any of you brought this point up with Lt. Yanick, our liason?”
“They’d never listen,” Basette scoffed.
“Why should they give up a safe and secure space for us?” Hands demanded.
“Let it be motioned that we shall demand living space on the central island,” Anselia stated imperiously, in an attempt to end the argument.
The vote, of course, carried.
“Now, can we PLEASE get back to the issue of whether or not to fully involve ourselves in the Matrian Rebellion?”
“Because your man-toy wants us to?” Samatat gave Anselia a look of disdain, “Or because you wish to play the heroine?”
Craigan, as an observer to the council, had been silent up until that point.
“You all asked me to help you plan out ways to resist the Qu’Eh. We really didn’t come up with much.”
“As I knew you wouldn’t, “ Basatte said smugly.
“Things have changed.” Craigan said.
“You’ve been influenced by this one and by Stafford,” Basatte said to Anselai, “We can no longer trust your judgement in these matters.”
“Point of Fact,” spoke up Kesthen, “Motions of no-confidence cannot be called during time of-“
“I don’t need a formal motion to declare my lack of confidence,” Basatte shot back.
And the squabbling went on.
Matrian Installation 317
Stafford was sitting on a crate in the Matrian hanger, waiting for word from the Council. The hanger had gone from a bustling hub of activity with bedrolls and makeshift tables covering every surface to a ghost-town, as the Matrian refugees moved into the more comfortable quarters found deeper in the rim. Next to him, Yanick was leaning against a wall, massaging her belly and looking vaguely ill.
Finally, a council page approached.
“Mr. Minister, I’m afraid the council is still deliberating,” the page reported.
“Still? They’ve been in there for nearly eight hours!” Stafford objected.
“Ah, I believe there is a minor dispute over rations at the moment. They’re trying to decide whether or not to demand that food be shipped here from the central island,” the page reported.
“It is believed that the replicators in the central areas are of higher quality than those in the rim,”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,”
“Concerns over the security of the Matrian history stored here,”
“And the question of whether or not to repaint this hanger red,”
“What?” Stafford looked at the metallic blue walls, “If you paint over the metal, it’s probably just…what am I saying?”
He paced for several moments in silent fury, his mouth half-forming words that never made it past his lips..
“Look, I’m coming back in four hours.,” he finally said, “By then Jeffery and Valtaic are sure they’ll have a ship setup with decent sensor-jamming. I want a Council decision by then,”
“You…should not give ultimatums to the Council,” the page said worriedly.
“Then the Council needs to hurry up,” Stafford said, “They’ve had weeks to take their time. Now it’s time to move quickly.”
He turned and started back to the transit station.
“C’mon Yanick,” he said, “You don’t look that great. Take the rest of the day off. I hear somebody got a steam room running in the fitness center. Y’know…just no lights.”
“Uh-huh,” Yanick muttered.
“What happened to you, eat a bad ration pack? I thought we’d switched over to the replicators,”
“Must have been a bad Matrian meatloaf,” Yanick groaned.
“Ah well. Once we get Noel back, she can check you out,”
“Sylvia, Fifebee, I have a new job for you,” Stafford said on arriving back in the command center. The trek between the Matrian hanger and the command complex was really becoming a drag, “And I really need a chair right now. All these stairs are killing my thighs.”
“I doubt this is going to be something fun like figuring out how to get pumpkin pie out of a Matrian replicator,” Sylvia said, amused.
“Nooo.” Stafford shook his head, “I need to get you hooked in to some of the Old Matrian ships. And we need to find the memory storage cores for this place.”
“Christopher, even if we find the storage units, without access to the facility computer systems the decoding, decrypting and interpreting of raw memory data could take months, if not years,” Sylvia said.
“We’re not worried about that right now,” Stafford said, “We’re making a backup.”
“In case the Qu’Eh manage to damage the computer cores here,”
“Then we’re taking action?” T’Parief demanded eagerly.
“The council hasn’t decided yet,” Stafford said, rolling his eyes dramatically.
T’Parief was quiet for a moment.
“Then we’re taking action?” he repeated.
“Hell yeah, we’re taking action!” Stafford said, “Starting by contacting our people. Jeffery, do we have access to MDHQ comms yet?”
“Aye,” Jeffery said.
“Gimmi,” Stafford said, “Let’s start by calling Jall.”
An hour and several unsuccessful attempts later, Stafford was resting his forehead on the holotable.
“Stafford to Stern,” he said, sounding incredibly bored, “Stafford to Stern, please come in,”
“You are certain that the communications protocols have been properly interfaced?” Sylvia asked Fifebee.
“Mr. Jeffery confirmed with a successful call-in to ‘Good Morning Matria’,” Fifebee answered, “Before he and Mr. Valtaic went to work on the sensor shielding. The comm system is working,”
“Maybe he’s getting busy and has to call us back?” Burke suggested.
“No, I didn’t think Stern’s going to answer,” Stafford said, lifting his head from the table, “But I’m trying anyway. All I’m getting is really weird squishing sounds.”
“We could try Dr. Wowryk again,” Fifebee suggested.
It had been no small feat, working with Fifebee, Sylvia and T’Parief to get a comm-channel through the fancy, untraceable connection between Haven and MDHQ, past the firewalls and monitoring systems, through the MDHQ comm-array and out to a working comm-badge. They’d started with Commander Jall and started working their way down the chain of MIA crewmembers. Most of their hails had been unanswered; either because the person in question was out of comm range, didn’t have a comm-badge, or had been killed.
Well, from what they knew, the first two seemed more likely.
“No, I don’t want to try calling Dr. Wowryk again, she might be…BURKE!” Stafford snapped, “You’re supposed to be finding useful information in the MDHQ network, not checking out Crewman Gibson’s porn collection!”
“But have you seen the rack on this blond?” Burke objected, “That’s a work of art!”
“Yeah, she does have a great rack, but that’s not the-“
“Nice tits are always the point,” Stern’s voice came over the comm channel.
“STERN?” Stafford nearly fell off his chair, “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 was shocked. The last he’d known, Silverado had been intentionally sabotaged during the Battle for Matria Prime. He figured the Qu’Eh had either blown it up or left it to rot in the giant pile of orbital trash circling Matria. But to repair it?
He shook his head.
“What have the Qu’Eh on the planet been doing?” he asked.
“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 recalled, “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, “The way I see it, they want to put the M-SIDs in their call centers to force they’re 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 they Qu’Eh are running their empire the same way the old Earth call centers did…”
“They’d need entire planets of slaves just to handle employee turnover,” Stafford sighed.
“Gotta go,” Stern hissed suddenly, closing the channel.
Leading back against the central holo-table, an Old Matrian earpiece still in one ear, Stafford frowned as Stern’s channel closed. The security officer, along with most of the Hazardous Team, was reportedly working undercover in a Qu’Eh call center. It had been weeks since Stafford had been able to speak with any of his officers not in the underground installation, and the chance to get caught up on a few goings-on was one that he’d badly needed.
With that thought, Stafford was nearly bowled over by a tidal-wave of relief. The people on his ship were still safe, so far as Stern knew. They were even trying to repair her, though if the Qu’Eh were able to get their hands on a fully functional Federation ship, there’d be hell to pay.
“Isn’t it nice to finally get a bit of news?” Sylvia said, an encouraging smile on her face.
“It is,” Stafford said, “T’Parief, let’s go,”
T’Parief immediate jumped to his feet, claws bared.
“And where are you going?” Fifebee inquired, “We still have eighty crewmembers we can attempt to contact,”
“Didn’t you hear Stern?” Stafford asked, “Except for the HT and Wowryk, everybody’s still on the ship,”
“Well, since you wore your earpiece for the entire conversation, I did not, in fact, hear Stern,” Fifebee said crossly.
“We’re getting Wowryk and the HT and we’re bringing them back here,” Stafford said firmly, “It’s time we got ourselves more involved in this rebellion, and I don’t care what Anselia and her council have to say about it,”
With that, he stood, turned and walked back down the stairs to the turbolift, T’Parief at his heels like an eager hunting dog.
Fifebee and Sylvia exchanged a glance as the doors hissed shut.
“Shall we try contacting the next eighty anyway?” Sylvia suggested.
“Yes, I do enjoy a mindless, repetitive task every once in a while,” Fifebee agreed, picking up Stafford’s discarded earpiece.
Downstairs, the turbolift doors hissed open again.
“Chris, what did you forget this time?” Sylvia called, “Really, how can you expect to lead your people on a dangerous extraction mission when you can’t even remember your own gear?”
Two flights of stairs below, Queen Anselia stood in the turbolift, a very dark expression growing on her face.
Sylvia smiled as the doors hissed shut.
“That boy,” she chuckled.
Stafford and T’Parief exited the stairwell a level above the hanger deck
While the computer systems remained solidly locked, Jeffery and Valtaic had learned how to operate the manual controls on some hanger systems, such as the doors and the movable landing platforms. As it turned out, the large, patterned indents on the hanger roof that happened to match the shape of the platforms were actually large, retractable trap doors. Opening them up, Jeffery had found a reasonably well equipped maintenance facility and had proceeded to raise one of the landing platforms, complete with ship, into the shop to begin his work.
Stafford and T’Parief stepped into the workshop to see the landing platform sitting above the closed doors. On it, a sleek Senousian scout ship sat. Jeffery and Valtaic were just closing up some of the access hatches on the exterior.
“Nice workshop, Jeffery,” Stafford commented.
“Aye, but Ah don’t know what half these tools do,” Jeffery complained, “And the lights are too dim. And the computers don’t work, and-“
“We decided on using one of the Senousian ships,” Valtaic explained, “The smoother surface and reduced profile make it easier to adapt the sensor-shielding,”
“I hope you asked the Senousians first,” Stafford commented.
“Ah tried,” Jeffery said, “But from the sounds comin’ out of their quarters, Ah think they’re worried about other stuff,”
“Arguments?” Stafford was surprised. The Senousians had been the easiest group to deal with by far, keeping largely to themselves and asking for nothing more than their share of food and water. And an above-average share of prophylactics.
Jeffery looked uncomfortable.
“Chris…they’re Senousians,” he said.
Stafford looked at him blankly.
“They were engaged in an orgy,” Valtaic said briskly, “They kindly invited us to attend, however my culture finds such things distasteful. And Mr. Jeffery is sexually crippled by his lust for Dr. Wowryk. May we go now?”
“Yeah,” Stafford said, eyebrows near his hairline, “let’s-“
“Uh-oh,” Stafford groaned. Queen Anselia was stalking into the workshop from the door at the far left.
“Prepare to receive your whipping,” T’Parief said, giving his captain a slightly smug expression.
“T’PARIEF! WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING???”
They looked up to see Lieutenant Yanick stalking into the workshop from the far right.
“Right back at ya, big guy,” Stafford said, patting T’Parief on the back.
“We’re just going to…go…start the prelaunch…” Jeffery said. He grabbed Valtaic by the arm, wincing as a spark of energy cracked. The two retreated into the ship.
“What’s going on?” Yanick demanded, cornering T’Parief in the corridor, “I left my quarters to see if you wanted to get some soup, and here I find you about to take off on some kind of mission?”
“I am Chief of Security,” T’Parief said, “It is what I do,”
Inwardly, he sighed. He should have known this was going to happen. He’d been so eager to get the heck out of the installation and into some action that he’d followed Stafford out to the hanger bay without a second thought. Now Yanick was giving him that same pouty/sad expression she’d given him weeks ago. He’d thought that the events surrounding her kidnapping by Craigan had put an end to that particular issue.
But maybe not.
T’Parief tried to let his emotions fade, to use the analytical, reptilian part of his mind. Hmmm. Nope. Now Yanick was making his stomach grumble. OK, no more reptilian analysis.
An idea struck.
“I have an opportunity to bring Noel back,” he said, “She’s in a great deal of danger in Matronus, as long as the Qu’Eh are looking for her. We need to bring her back. Just as I brought you back from Craigan,”
“Oh, so Noel’s as important to you as I am now?” Yanick snapped.
T’Parief just stared at her.
“Ohhh…then I’m coming with you!” she snapped, “You need a pilot!”
“Can kiss my ass!” Yanick shouted, “If you’re all doing this, then I’m coming with! And if you have a problem with that, then you can join him!”
“In the mission or in kissing your ass?” T’Parief wondered.
But Yanick was already stalking towards the ship.
“You cannot go,” Anselia said, “We forbid it,”
“You forbid it, or the council forbids it?” Stafford asked, crossing his arms. Yanick and T’Parief had taken the corridor for their spat, leaving Stafford and Anselia in a stairwell.
“Both,” Anselia replied, “The council has decreed that no more than two ships may leave Haven at any point,”
“Good, cuz I was only going to take one,” Stafford shrugged.
“And that the Minister of Planetary Defence and all other essential personnel will not depart this facility,”
“Awww,” Stafford grinned, “You guys think I’m essential. That’s so…wait. No! Anselia, I’m going on this mission. Period.”
“Given the manner in which you’ve dictated terms to them in the past few days, defying the council would be a political mistake,” Anselia said.
“I don’t care. I hate politics,” Stafford said. He stepped into the corridor and started walking towards the hanger bay and the ship.
“I forbid it!” Anselia said again, “As your Queen, we forbid you to take part in this mission.”
“Yeah, well as your Minister of Planetary Defence, I say I go,” Stafford snapped back.
“If you defy me, Christopher, I…I mean, we will have your resignation!” Anselia fumed.
“Why wait? You can have it now,” Stafford shrugged, continuing on his way, “You put me in this job, I never applied for it. Oh, and look, I’m still a Starfleet captain, and the ranking officer here. See you after the mission.”
“If you step into that ship, we are through!”
Stafford had reached the ship. He took one step into the hatch.
“The Federation is going to be here to fulfill it’s obligations to Matria,” Stafford said, “But I won’t be. A few weeks, maybe a month down the road, I’ll be gone, you’ll have a new plaything and a new Minister of Planetary Defence. You’re a beautiful woman, and I really admire what you’re doing for your people. But when this is over, I’m still going to have Noel, Simon, Trish and the rest of my people. And that kind of lasting relationship trumps anything you can offer,”
He let the hatch close, leaving Anselia fuming in the workshop.
“That was sweet, Chris,” Yanick said as Stafford stepped into the small cockpit.
“Aye. Gave me the warm ‘n fuzzies, Jeffery agreed.
“T’Parief, what’s she doing here?” Stafford demanded.
“Either she pilots, or we both have to kiss her ass,” T’Parief replied.
T’Parief inclined his head as if to say ‘and there you go’.
“So I guess ye won’t be getting any more Matrian booty,” Jeffery commented.
“I’m sure having Noel back will make up…for…it…” Stafford trailed off.
“Awww crap.” He sighed. “Look, just launch the ship. Let’s go.”
“Frat, open ‘er up,” Jeffery ordered into his Matrian comm-badge.
There was a rumble as the door beneath their platform split, the segments retracting out of the way as the entire landing platform shuddered then eased down into the hanger bay. Looking at the viewscreen Stafford could see one section of the huge hanger door easing open, revealing the desert outside.
“Sensor jamming online,” Valtaic reported, “We are also relying heavily on anti-grav, to avoid leaving a drive trail,”
“Hope ye practiced on the old Wraith simulators, Trish,” Jeffery said.
“Hmm? Oh, whatever,” Yanick shrugged.”
“Power up essential systems only,” Stafford ordered.
“We already did that,” Valtaic corrected him.
“Then let’s go,”
The small Senousian scout lifted off the landing platform, then eased out of the bay. With a pulse from its antigravity drive, the ship soared off over the desert.