Author: Brendan Chris
Qu’Eh Flagship - In Orbit of Matria Prime Invasion of Matria Prime +30 Days, +/- 1 Day, accurate to 85% 19 times out of 20
“Thank you for calling Robellus, this is Den, how may I…”
“-if you could just reset your subspace transceiver…”
“-would like to give you a refund, but that’s against…”
“-terribly sorry, but shipping out a new unit without a valid warranty is..”
“-according to policy, if you do not control your temper, I…”
“-I’ll have to check…”
“Make it stop!” Commander San Jall groaned, lying on his narrow bunk in the prison cell he’d occupied for…well, he didn’t really know. More than a week. More than two? Felt more like ten years. The Qu’Eh had apparently grown tired with his attempts to delay his inevitable torture and decided they needed to take some kind of action while he made up his mind on just how exactly he’d like to suffer. (They were still working through his ‘Preferred Method of Death’ form.) The implant fused against his ear had started whispering a constant stream of voices. At first, he’d been forced to listen to hour upon hour of quality assessments, dealing both with Qu’Eh performance and with the behaviour of the Matrians during the first weeks (month?) of the Qu’Eh occupation. He’d listened to the reports carefully, trying to glean what little nuggets of news and relevant information he could in between passionate Qu’Eh assessors going on about the needs of ‘the customer’.
Somebody must have figured out that feeding him that kind of information wasn’t that great an idea, as it wasn’t long before his implant had switched over to simply playing back recorded ‘customer interactions’. It wasn’t until he heard the unmistakable voices of Lt. Cmdr. Stern and Ensign Simmons that he’d realized the horrible truth: The Qu’Eh were slavers.
Even worse, they were call-center slavers.
One job that computers, machines and holograms just couldn’t seem to replace was that of the call center drone. It was a Catch-22 situation: Only highly sophisticated computers could properly mimic the art of conversing with a live being. Unfortunately, any computer that advanced would realize it had been created for a lifetime of calls from usually irate customers and immediately overload its own processor in a form of cybernetic suicide. The Federation had just barely managed to meet its call-center staffing requirements by employing a small army of part-time college students and the strategic use of outsourcing, but the Qu’Eh had apparently decided that conquering and enslaving civilizations worked better.
Jall couldn’t help but wonder just how many species the Qu’Eh had enslaved already. Or how long those species had managed to survive with their sanity intact.
The force-field of his cell flickered and faded, then Supervisor Neum stepped in, the inevitable padd of forms held in one hand.
“MISTER JALL!” she cried, her voice pitched almost high enough to crack glass, “‘Death by Cellphone-Induced Brain Cancer’ is NOT a valid method of death!”
“I thought the Qu’Eh of all people would appreciate that one,” Jall quipped tiredly, tapping the communications implant fused to his head.
“That is NOT funny!”
“Ohh, must have hit a nerve on that one,” Jall smiled.
“Mister Jall, we’ve already had to select your torture for you, don’t make us choose your execution method too!” Neum snapped, “We are trying to be as accommodating as possible!”
“By torturing and killing me?”
“You made us!” Neum sniffed, “If you’d just worked yourself to death on that ship like you were supposed to, none of this would have happened.” She looked at her padd, “And by the way, your deadline to score quality points by attempting to escape by seducing me has expired,”
“Wow, I am so disappointed,”
“It’s time for your torture!” Neum snapped.
“You mean this wasn’t it?” Jall tapped his implant.
Neum just gestured to the guards, who stepped in and grabbed Jall by the upper arms.
“I hope Wowryk’s having better luck than this,” Jall groaned.
Dr. Noel Wowryk felt a heavy weight strike her back as Agent Jural tackled her, knocking her to the ground seconds before Qu’Eh disruptor blasts filled the air.
“Quack?” Noel asked, rolling onto her back and firing her phaser back towards the advancing Qu’Eh.
“You know. ‘Get down’,” Jural replied, hunting through his jacket. He pulled out an odd-looking piece of technology, looked at it, frowned and put it back.
“You mean ‘duck’!” Wowryk snapped.
“Well, a duck goes ‘quack’ doesn’t it?” Jural asked, pulling out another device then tucking it away again.
“It doesn’t work that way!” Wowryk said, “And what are you doing?”
“Matrian Intelligence finally gave me all kinds of neat gizmos for situations like this,” Jural replied, “I just keep forgetting which one is which,”
“How very James Bond of you,” Wowryk said dryly.
Jural pulled out what looked like a standard location-tracker, like an old GPS unit.
“There we go!” he pulled off a tab then threw it towards the Qu’Eh troops. Seconds later there was a high-pitched shriek and a bright flash of light.
“And what if you needed to know our location?” Wowryk asked as they got to their feet and resumed running down the back alley.
“I’d use this,” Jural pulled out a stun grenade with a small locater display on one side.
“This is why I’m a doctor, not a secret agent,” Wowryk muttered.
Wowryk, Jural and Mistress Laheya, the leaders of the Matrian Rebellion, had been chased out of three hideouts in as many days. After the destruction of Matronus Quali-Tech, along with several other smaller operations, the Qu’Eh had abruptly decided the rebel Matrians were more of a threat than they’d originally thought. Counter-insurgency teams had swept through the tunnels under Matronus, driving the rebels out of their primary hiding spot. The three leaders and their subordinates had hidden first in an empty warehouse, then in an old naval shipyard, then finally in a largely uninhabited mental health facility. Each time, the Qu’Eh managed to track them down within a day, sending them on the run again. Cut-off from their usual contacts, Wowryk had been forced to route most of her communications through Stafford and the Silverado officers hiding under the desert. Thanks to her, Layeha and Jural along with the untraceable link between the installation and the Matrian communications network (via the Matrian DHQ computers), Haven was now secretly in contact with several rebel cells.
Which completely defeated the entire attempt to use Wowryk as a symbol of the rebellion.
“Jural,” she said, fighting to keep her breath as they dodged around the back of a building and into another alley, “I think we need to rethink our strategy,”
Matrian Installation 317-B, AKA Haven, Under the Evendra Desert:
“YANICK!” Captain Christopher Stafford shouted, poking his head around a permanently-opened door and into the dining hall on Level 20 of the command tower, “TRISH?? ARE YOU IN HERE?”
“She most certainly is not,” sniffed Patsy Horton, her fingertips mere centimetres from her ears, wincing from the shouting, “Now sod off and stop annoying my customers!”
Stafford looked around. Crewmen Shwaluk and Gibson were seated near a large, dark window picking at something green that had come out of the Matrian replicator.
“She’s not here,” he cursed to himself.
“But while you are,” Horton jumped in, “I hear they found a café or restaurant near the Transit Hub. With your permission, I’d like to-“
“Sorry, Ms. Horton,” Stafford shrugged, “Some of the Matrian civilians already claimed it. Have you seen Yanick? I need to find her?”
“Sod off!” Horton repeated firmly, stalking away.
“Think she’s been trapped down here a little too long,” Stafford muttered.
Stafford found himself squeezing through a narrow, twisting corridor off the main level of the Transit Hub. He’d had to climb down over twenty levels of stairs, walk from the command tower lobby, past a series of defunct security stations, out to the base of Tower 3, down a few more levels of stairs to the main level and then through a non-descript door that Lt. Cmdr. Valtaic had opened two days before. Slowly but surely, the secret installation was opening up to them. Of course, for every room with an obvious purpose there were at least a hundred that were empty, incomplete or just plain incomprehensible.
The chamber Stafford found himself in didn’t fall into one of those categories. It was clearly a kitchen. Several Matrian men were working over countertops or cooking surfaces while another brought in an armful of replicated ingredients.
Stafford had to admit it, whatever they were making smelled better than the 100% replicated stuff Horton was serving upstairs.
“Uh, have you seen Yanick?” he asked, “Blond girl, yay high?”
“Dining room, Mr. Minister,” one of the men said before turning back to his work.
“Actually, I resigned that,” Stafford tried.
“Not according to the King & Queen’s Newsletter,” the man shrugged.
“Later,” Stafford muttered to himself. He stepped out of the kitchen and into what was definitely a comfortable-looking restaurant. What he assumed was the main entrance was sealed off with security gates; even Valtaic couldn’t open those up. The place was nicer than Unbalanced Equations, but Stafford had once glimpsed the Admiral’s Lounge in Starfleet HQ, and this place was still a few notches below that level. Restaurants in military establishments were anything but unusual. (His history professor at the Academy had informed them that one of Earth’s old nation-states had planted a Tim Horton’s in the middle of a war-torn battle-zone, but Stafford had decided that was just some kind of joke.)
Lt. Trish Yanick was seated at one of the tables with an older Matrian man, picking at some kind of soup and listening intently to what he was saying.
“Trish!” Stafford shouted.
Yanick looked up, but instead of giving him her usual radiant smile, Stafford could have sworn there was a look of panic in her eyes. Stafford’s eyes glanced from her to the Matrian and back again.
Uh-oh. Yanick. And a man. In a restaurant that very few Starfleet personnel had found their way into.
“It’s not what you think,” Yanick said immediately.
“Ummmm.” Stafford bit his lip. What to say? What to do? Where could he hide from T’Parief for the next month?
“Christopher Rico Stafford, take that look off your face,” Yanick said, rising and putting her hands on her hips. She immediately winced, one hand going for her stomach.
Stafford jumped forward, awkward situation forgotten.
“Trish! Are you OK?” he demanded.
“Just gassy,” she said, pushing him away, “This is Dr. Hent, by the way. The Matrian Surgeon General,”
Stafford nodded, then turned back to Yanick.
“We need to go,” he said, “I’ve been looking for you for over an hour!”
“Why didn’t you…right. I turned my comm-badge off,” Yanick slapped herself lightly on the forehead and giggled, “Silly me!”
“Yeah, do you know how many flights of stairs I had to climb?” he demanded.
“Why didn’t you just get some underlings to do it?”
Stafford glared at her, realization dawning.
“Let’s just go,” he said, “Noel wants extraction.”
Yanick was through the kitchen and into the warren of narrow corridors in a heartbeat.
“You gotta wait for me!” Stafford called after her.
Stafford finally caught up to Yanick in the Transit Hub. He found her standing on one of the platforms, looking out into the vast, ring-shaped space and tapping her foot impatiently.
“Where’s the tram? I don’t have all day!” she complained.
“Considering I already spent an hour looking for you,” Stafford rolled his eye, “Only to find that you’d snuck off for a private dinner with a handsome Matrian doctor.” Stafford frowned, “Wait, was he handsome? I can never tell with these things,”
“He’s like, ninety,” Yanick shook her head, “And it wasn’t a date! I just needed a bit of…medical advice! AND WHERE’S THAT TRAM!!??”
“Medical advice?” Stafford frowned again, his eyes moving towards Yanick’s slightly bloated stomached as her mood swung from ‘eager rescue pilot’ to ‘angry public transit user’. Suddenly, all the little hints from the previous weeks added up. The nausea, the moods and the cramps. It could only mean one thing: “OH MY GOD! YOU’RE-“
Yanick jumped up, tackling him to the ground. Granted, she wasn’t very big. But the shear surprise of the move sent Stafford pin wheeling back, missing the guard rail and sprawling back into the tram track’s antigravity field.
“I am not pregnant!” Yanick hissed angrily.
“OK! OK!” Stafford submitted, “You’re not pregnant, and it’s none of my business!”
There was a loud humming as a tram eased out of the nearest tunnel and came straight at them. Second before impact, the track antigravity field pulsed, sending Yanick and Stafford flying back onto the platform where they landed in a tangle of limbs.
“Must be some kind of safety system,” Stafford mumbled.
“Owie,” Yanick replied.
The doors hissed open and Queen Anselia, co-leader of the Matrian government stepped out. She was looking a little less regal than usual, what with her wearing the same cloths all month, but she’d clearly been making good use of the hygienic facilities they’d found so far.
“Lt. Yanick, Minister Stafford,” she said coldly, nodding at them, “Might I suggest that you finish your…activities…in the privacy of your own quarters?”
“I’m not your minister anymore!” Stafford said, climbing to his feet, “I resigned! And we just…fell over!”
“I refuse to accept your resignation,” Anselia said simply.
“Look, we can bicker about this later! We have to go rescue Wowryk from the Qu’Eh!”
“Actually, you don’t” Anselia said calmly, “I have just overseen the departure of a Matrian extraction team. They should have her back in two hours,”
“WHAT?” Stafford and Yanick exclaimed loudly, “WHO? WHY?”
“Shall we find a more appropriate location for this discussion?” Anselia said, very professionally.
“I can give you an appropriate location for my boot!” Stafford said, “Up your-“
Yanick smacked him.
“Do you really want to have this conversation here?” she said softly, pointing up at the balconies overhead.
“Good point,” Stafford grumbled, “Fine, there’s a…a something with chairs a couple levels up this tower,” he pointed up at the ornate staircase leading up out of their section of the Transit Hub.
“Excellent,” Anselia started walking towards the stairs. She turned suddenly towards Yanick, “Oh, and congratulations on your pregnancy. When We get out of here, We will send you a shrimp basket,”
“I’M NOT PREGNANT!!! Wait…shrimp basket???”
Lt. Travis Pye stepped out of the Jefferies tube hatch and onto the empty bridge of the USS Silverado.
“OK, Sage, bring it up,” he said into his helmet radio.
There was a hum, almost imperceptible, then the main lighting flickered to life. There was another soft sound as the air recirculation system activated. Finally, Pye floated gently to the deck as the artificial gravity ramped up to normal levels.
“Auxiliary power restored to Deks 1 through 10,” Sage reported, “And Impulse Engineering, anyway.”
“Great. So now we can take off the suits while we work on everything else,” Pye muttered, cracking his helmet.
They’d been working on repairs to the ship for weeks now. Every circuit had been fried by Jall’s last-minute attempt at sabotage. Even now, all the bridge consoles were still dark, the viewscreen was still broken and half of the conn/ops console had melted away. But at least now they had some power up and running and it was time to start working on getting the actual systems working again.
“Four days behind schedule,” Supervisor Blon, the current Silverado manager was saying, “That’s going to reflect very badly on your quarterly review!”
“Whatever,” Pye muttered.
The Silverado crew, those who were still aboard ship, were on the verge of a crisis. Commander Jall had been arrested by the Qu’Eh, who still insisted that they work to repair Silverado so she could become part of the Qu’Eh fleet. The relief fleet from Starfleet was now overdue, the Qu’Eh controlled news reports were stating that rebel activity in all major cities was slowly but surely being crushed and there’d been no new broadcast from the rebels since Wowryk’s initial message.
On top of that, the crew was burning out.
Between the weeks of travelling to get to Matria Prime, the first Qu’Eh attack, the rush to prepare for the second wave, the Second Battle of Matria Prime, capture and interrogation by the Qu’Eh and now weeks of working in environmental suits and living in a shuttlebay, the hundred or so officers and crew that were still aboard the ship were ready to crack. Quality Assessments, held three times a day, reflected a decreasing trend in member participation, and the forms that were coming back were…
Pye stopped for a moment to rub his temples. He was not a Qu’Eh. He didn’t care about quality assessments, stupid forms or his quarterly review. He only wanted one thing: to have Silverado ready enough to cause the Qu’Eh problems when the fleet arrived.
They just needed to hold out a bit longer.
“Well, we’re just going to have to get to the bottom of this performance issue,” Blon was saying, “I think we need to do a Quality Audit, followed by a Motivational Workshop. Doesn’t that sound lovely?”
Pye closed his eyes.
Screw holding out. They needed rescue. And fast!
Stafford led Yanick and Ansleia out of the Tower 3 stairwell, down a short hallway paneled in some sort of red stone and into a room that could be a conference room, a lounge, or even a private dining room. Whatever it was, there was a large table in the center, several chairs and a broad window looking out into the blackness of the cavern. Stafford stood in front of the window for a moment. In the distance, he thought he could see a lit window out on the outer rim, where the Matrians had been living for a while.
“I really wish we could get the power on out there,” he mused, “What the hell were your people hiding down here?”
“When this crisis is over, we can come back with an army of environmental suits and flashlights,” Anselia said dryly.
“Hmm. Stafford to Valtaic,” he tapped his comm-badge, “Any report from the Matrian rescue team?”
There was a moment of silence.
“And what Matrian rescue team is that?” the alien officer asked politely.
Stafford glared at Anselia.
“Send somebody out to the hanger,” Stafford ordered, “I want to know the second there’s any news!”
“As you wish.” Still sounding confused, Valtaic closed the channel.
“So you not only sent a team out of the installation, you didn’t bother to tell anybody?” Stafford said, his voice wavering just a bit, “What if they were captured? What if they were tracked!? We’d have zero warning!”
“I was on my way to make the proper notifications when we met,” Anselia said, chin high, “I’m not stupid!”
“Oh, but you figured if you tried discussing this whole Matrian rescue thing with me first that I’d put up a fight? That it was just better to go behind my back?”
“Yes,” Anselia replied, “Absolutely,”
“Christopher, we agreed that the Matrian Defence Force would be largely absorbed into Starfleet,” Anselia said, “And that Starfleet would provide ships to enforce stability in this region.”
“Right,” now Stafford was wary.
“We did NOT agree that we would sit back and let Starfleet do everything,” Anselia went on, “And after your little…escapade…into Matronus, the Council has been pushing for more participation on our part.”
“Well that’s…” Stafford frowned, “That’s great, actually,”
“And that you remain as Minister of Planetary Defence. We do not accept your resignation,”
“I guess that’s why those Matrians were asking me about anti-grav piloting,” Yanick said innocently, “And where I kept the puke bags,”
“We have been preparing for several days for just such an event,” Anselia said smugly, “We’ve copied your sensor-reflective shielding onto one of our scouts and prepared our pilots to fly undetected to and from the facilility,”
“Why didn’t you tell me this stuff?” Stafford exclaimed, “Jeffery could have rigged another SR system, and Yanick…”
“We had to do this ourselves, Christopher,” Anselia cut him off, “Unless we show ourselves capable of standing on our own, your people will consider us subordinates, not equals. And we will not be subordinate to you, the Qu’Eh, or anybody else for that matter.”
“Now, Miss Yanick, if you’ll excuse us, we have private matters to discuss.”
After Yanick had left, Anselia dropped her ‘professionally polite’ façade.
“You defied us, Christopher,” she said quietly, “Us, the council, the people of Matria Prime,”
“And things turned out pretty good, didn’t they?” Stafford said, a bit off-guard, “We helped Wowryk get your rebellion moving, we’ve got contacts in Matrian Intelligence and DHQ and we’ve started running missions out of Haven.”
“Yes, the council is pleased overall,” Anselia said, moving closer to him, “But We are not. You have defied us, humiliated us and dishonoured us.”
She lunged at him. Before he knew what has happening, she’d snapped binders on his wrists and shoved him back onto the table.
“And there will be…consequences!”
Up in the command complex, Fifebee and Valtaic were continuing their mapping of the facility. Both were seated at Matrian control pulpits, which had been disconnected from the facility’s systems and interfaced with a small Federation computer core. T’Parief was pacing the wide, ring-shaped second level, co-ordinating the various security teams as they explored the seemingly endless installation.
“Security teams report that they’ve gained access to what has been designated Shipyard 3,” he called up to Valtaic on the third level, “They report no space-frames or hulls under construction. They will begin exploring and cataloguing the contents of the surrounding cargo bays, however an initial glance has shown the first three to be empty,”
“Acknowledged”, Valtaic responded, keying in the data.
“Shipyard 1 is so far the only shipyard that appears to have been active at the time of the lockdown,” Fifebee remarked.
“Considering that all the shipyards, assuming we find the six we are expecting, were buried, one must consider why any were active,” Valtaic replied.
“We don’t know that there’s any actual ground blocking them, or if it’s just sand,” Fifebee replied, “Which reminds me, T’Parief, I believe we were going to send a team outside to try to determine that?”
“I have passed that request over to the Matrians,” T’Parief replied, “At the Captain’s instruction,”
And so on, and so forth. Office talk, really. Just a bunch of people doing their jobs, despite the fact that they were wearing the same uniforms they’d put on over a month ago.
There was a hiss as a pair of turbolift doors on the lower level opened. T’Parief’s slow orbit of the outer walkway had brought him just into the right position for Valtaic to cock his head in an inquiring gesture. T’Parief grunted. Unfortunately, the turbolift door that had opened was on the other side of the central column. He had no idea who was there.
What a stupid design for a control center, anyway! Security was an absolute nightmare!
He moved quickly around the outer ring, trying to get a view of whoever had come up. As the column cleared his field of view he saw…nobody?
They must have gone around the other side!
He quickly reversed his direction, turning back the way he came.
On the opposite side of the command complex, Yanick changed direction; sure she’d heard T’Parief coming around. Excellent!
After a moment of walking around the lower walkway and seeing nothing, she changed direction again. T’Parief must be the other way.
“How long shall we allow this to continue?” Valtaic asked Fifebee as Yanick and T’Parief, oblivious to the situation, simultaneously changed directions for a third time, each still unable to see the other. From the third level, Fifebee and Valtaic had a perfect view of what was happening.
“Until it is no longer funny,” Fifebee replied immediately.
Valtaic opened his mouth to call down to T’Parief. Fifebee quickly slapped a hand over his mouth.
“It is still funny,” she said flatly.
Valtaic eyed her for a moment, then went back to work.
Stafford was seated in one of the small lounges attached to the Transit Hub crossover bridge when Jeffery rushed by.
“Hey, Chris,” the engineer said, giving a sort of half-wave. He stopped, then did a double-take. Stafford’s hair was mussed, his face was red, his uniform rumbled and Jeffery was pretty sure he had bruises forming on his neck.
“What the devil happened to ye?” Jeffery demanded.
“Anselia happened to me,” Stafford said, swallowing, “She decided I was acting a bit too…independently…for her tastes. I don’t want to talk about.”
“But I want you to know Simon,” Stafford gulped, “I didn’t cry,”
Finally, after a few more rounds, Yanick and T’Parief caught up with each other.
“Hi Pari,” Yanick said, giving a wave.
“Trish,” T’Parief said.
“No, this is Lieutenant Kennerdy, in Hanger 11,” a voice came out of his comm-badge, “Look, Crewman Mong has finished fuelling up the Old Matrian ships down here, but we somebody who can read Matrian before he can start the power-up sequences,”
“Then let Jeffery deal with that, I’m busy,” T’Parief replied, closing the channel. He turned to Yanick. He couldn’t help but gaze briefly at her swelling stomach. The signs had been there for a while: the nausea, the vomiting, and now the swelling stomach. He knew, intellectually, that the odds of her conceiving where almost nothing, but still…what else could these signs mean? He had refused to say anything about it. Odds were, whatever was happening to Yanick’s body had nothing to do with him. That, and she’d been making painfully obvious attempts to hide whatever was wrong from him. From the look on her face, that was about to change. Ok, there was no way she could actually be pregnant. Had to be some kind of gastro thing. There was no way she’d swell up in a just a couple weeks if she was pregnant.
Was there? It would be relatively easy for her to become pregnant by a human male…
“Don’t look at me like that!” Yanick suddenly cried shrilly.
“Like I’m a giant…baby-bomb!” she said, clenching her fists, “I can see the panic in your eyes! I’ve already had this conversations with Chris!”
Fifebee was now staring down from the upper level. Even Valtaic had a look of surprise on his face.
“I’M NOT PREGNANT!” Yanick shrieked up at them. They quickly retreated.
“You saw a doctor?” T’Parief demanded, trying not to let his relief show.
“I saw the Matrian doctor,” Yanick clarified, speaking more quietly “He says it’s a…a false pregnancy. I’m just retaining fluid. It should go away in a few weeks,”
“I see,” T’Parief nodded, “And will the mood swings be fading as well?”
Yanick tried to bop him on the head. Unfortunately, she couldn’t reach. She settled for punching him in the chest, repeatedly.
“I’M NOT HAVING MOOD SWINGS!” she snapped, in between punches.
“Trish,” T’Parief said, keeping his voice level, “Let’s go down and discuss this in a…a more private setting,”
“This inna Trish,” Jeffery’s voice came from the comm-badge, “But if ye see her, could ye get her to liaison a Matrian translator over ta-“
“NOT NOW!” T’Parief grumbled loudly, cutting the channel.
“Stafford to Yanick,” Yanick’s comm-badge immediately beeped.
“Not now, Chris!” she snapped, cutting the channel.
“Ohhh, Pari,” Yanick sighed, ceasing her assault, “This isn’t your fault, I shouldn’t be getting angry at you!”
“Stafford to T’Parief,” T’Parief’s comm-badge beeped.
“But I have EVERY right to get angry at all these interruptions!” she snapped.
Warily, T’Parief opened the channel.
“Tell Yanick to calm down,” Stafford said immediately, “There’s no way her day’s been worse than mine’s been! And I need both of you to meet me in the Transit Hub,”
“We’re in the middle of something-“
“The Matrian extraction team due back in an hour. I though Yanick would want to come wait out in the hanger.” Stafford cut him off.
“Be there in a jiff!” Yanick said, grabbing T’Parief’s arm and pulling him towards the turbolifts.
After a short wait and a seemingly endless (and very, very quiet) tram ride out to the hanger bay, Stafford was pacing up and down the corridor outside the bay control room while Yanick sat on one of the corridor hand-rails. T’Parief was standing rigidly halfway up the corridor, almost like one of those suit-of-armour statues or something.
“This waiting is driving me nuuuuuuts,” Stafford groaned, looking into the hanger for the hundredth time. The corridor they’d chosen was six floors above the main hanger deck, with broad transparent panels looking into the hanger, directly at a Senousian ship berthed on one of the movable platforms.
“And your pacing is driving us nuts!” Yanick said.
“What, you’ve lived with me for how many years now and it still bothers you?” Stafford asked.
“Not really,” Yanick shrugged, “But I took your mind off Wowryk for a minute, didn’t I?”
“Hmmm,” Stafford crossed his arms and looked out in the hanger.
The huge doors were closed, as they were when the hanger had been first discovered. A few feet away the angular, transparent sides of the control booth jutted into the bay, looking almost like a strangely shaped gem. Inside, one of the Nakeths was standing on a chair, fiddling with a mess of wires running out of one wall. The control pulpits in the booth were similar to the ones in the command complex and the rear wall was the same strange red pattern, setting the chamber slightly apart from the more utilitarian corridors surrounding the corridors.
“You’d think they’d have a better place to wait for ships than this,” Stafford sighed,
T’Parief was silent. Yanick just sort of shrugged. Stafford’s gaze flickered between the two of them.
“Ohhh…you two have had a ‘talk’, huh?”
T’Parief bared his teeth.
“It’s not your business,” Yanick said politely.
“Ahem. Of course. Right. Shutting up now.”
Stafford resumed his pacing.
“It’s not that I don’t understand why Anselia and Hektor sent a Matrian team,” he said suddenly, “And I get why she kept it from us until the last minute, I really do. They felt like they had something to prove. And maybe they’re right. This is their planet after all, isn’t it?”
“The Klingons would approve,” T’Parief grumbled.
“Yeah, exactly!” Stafford agreed, “They want to be an active part of the Federation, not a charity case!”
“Goody,” Yanick said half-heartedly, “Then what’s the problem?”
Stafford turned back to the window.
“It’s Noel out there,” he said softly, “She pisses the hell out of me half the time we’re together-“
“I know how that feels,” Yanick muttered. T’Parief let out an aggravated throat-rattle.
“What with the conversion attempts, and the promises of eternal damnation, and the threats against my testicles,” Stafford went on, “But…dammit…”
“It should be you out there?” Yanick asked.
“F**k no!” Stafford exclaimed, “It should be the Hazardous Team out there! I’m not much of a fighter, but Stern and those guys totally get off on that kind of thing!”
“In Stern’s case, I suspect that may be very true,” T’Parief replied, “Literally,”
“It’s OK,” Stafford said, looking slightly enigmatic, “He’ll get his chance very soon,”
“A mission?” T’Parief perked up.
“Here we go again with the mission!” Yanick complained, “Always with the missions! It’s a good thing I’m NOT pregnant! What kind of kid needs a father who’s always off killing stuff!”
Stafford was rubbing his temples now. The hanger bay doors were still closed, and there was no sign from anybody on the hanger floor that they were expecting an imminent landing. Coloured motion three levels down up caught his eye. He looked over to see Anselia and Hektor standing in one of the lower corridors, looking down into the bay.
“I’m gonna go see what’s up,” Stafford said, “See you when they get in,”
He turned to leave.
“We’ll come,” Yanick said, jumping off her perch.
“No you won’t,” Stafford called back, “You’ve got issues to deal with,”
Yanick stopped in her tracks as if stung.
“He’s right,” T’Parief nodded, “We have…unfinished business,”
“Minister,” King Hektor nodded as Stafford approached the royal ‘couple’. (They weren’t actually a couple, they were elected temporarily into their positions.)
“Any word?” Stafford asked.
“The extraction team was being pursued by a Qu’Eh vessel after they picked up Dr. Wowryk, Agent Jural and Mistress Laheya,” Anselia said, “They flew into a storm system over J’Taeri District to shake them, and we lost contact,”
Stafford started grinding his teeth.
“You have little faith in our people,” Hektor observed dryly.
“They haven’t exactly done this kind of thing before,” Stafford pointed out.
“Some of the soldiers on our extraction ship are the same ones that carried out kidnapping raids against the Senousians before the reawakening,” Anselia pointed out quietly, “We remind you that although they don’t remember a lot of that time, they haven’t exactly spent the past century toothless,”
“Ahem,” Stafford cringed a bit, “Right,”
Stafford looked up into the other corridor, where Yanick and T’Parief seemed to be having a calm discussion.
“Well, at least those two are figuring things out,” he remarked, “Man, I sure stuck my foot in it there.”
“We are sure it’s a temporary thing,” Anselia waved a hand, “She did see a doctor, did she not?”
“Yeah,” Stafford said, “Just a temporary thing. It happens sometimes, it’s just too bad we were all so thoughtless about…HEY!”
Up in the corridor, Yanick and T’Parief had apparently moved out of the argument phase and into the make-up phase.
Stafford pounded one fist against the transparent panel.
“PEOPLE CAN SEE YOU!” he shouted.
Craigan jogged up the hallway, waving at Anselia.
“They’re on final approach, your Majesty,” he said. He looked out the window.
“I’ll never understand why the lizard gets hugs and kisses and all I got was a kick to the head,” he muttered.
“Maybe because you kidnapped her,” Stafford said dryly, clapping the guy on the shoulder and running down to the hanger floor.
Stafford rushed out one of the lower level corridors and into the hanger at the same time Yanick and T’Parief emerged, slightly out of breath, from another. Jeffery was already sprinting across the bay towards the slightly battered-looking Matrian scout. The hatch had already opened and several Matrian troops had filed out, looking oddly professional despite their lack of uniforms. Jural and Laheya were next, turning their heads as they took in the huge, hanger bay. Finally, they were followed by a very tired-looking Wowryk.
“so good to see”
“yer in once piece! Thank-“
“QUIET!” Wowryk snapped. Everybody took an involuntary half-step back.
“I’m sorry,” she said at a more conversation level, “I’ve just…it’s just that things have been very loud lately, what with the attacks and the explosions and all that,”
“Oh, what were we thinking,” Yanick said, giving Wowryk a hug then taking her arm, “Let’s go…I made sure we had some quarters setup for you. You can shower, get something to eat and have a nap,”
As she spoke, Wowryk’s eyes had widened and flickered over to meet Stafford’s. She’d felt the slight swelling around Yanick’s belly during the hug. Behind Yanick, Stafford was shaking his head and making rapid slashing gestures across his throat.
“Thank you, Trish,” Wowryk said, “Jural and Laheya will need quarters as well. Could you take them while I talk to the Captain?”
“Um, it’s sort of a long way,” Yanick said, “We have to take a train,”
“It’s a big place,” Yanick finished.
“Look, just go on ahead and meet us at the tram station,” Stafford told Yanick. He turned to T’Parief, “Get the HT down here and find Jeffery. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“I’m really glad you’re back here safely,” Stafford said to Wowryk as they hung several feet behind the other extractee’s in the corridor, “I wanted to send the HT to get you, but the Matrians…”
“Layeha, Jural and I already discussed it,” Wowryk nodded, “And it’s good. But what’s with Trish?”
“Ohh, I don’t know,” Stafford shook his head, “She went to see a Matrian doctor, he told her it’s nothing, but since the symptoms are so close to pregnancy, she’s been getting a few…um…comments that she’s really not liking,”
They walked in quiet for a few more minuets.
“We have a problem,” Wowryk said, “I didn’t want to say it around the Matrians. But we’ve got a leak,”
“A LEAK?” Stafford demanded, “We just brought you all back to the most closely guarded secret in the Matrian Republic and you have a LEAK?”
“Not about this place,” Wowryk said, trying to shush him, “None of the rebels know this place exists, except for Jural and Layeha! But our headquarter’s kept getting hit, no matter where we moved it! I checked everybody for tracking bugs, subcutaneous transmitters, radiation traces, the works!”
She shook her head.
“I’m certain the Qu’Eh have come up with a way of getting captured rebels to talk. Once is expected. Twice is bad luck. Three times is trouble.”
“If they’ve got something like that…” he said slowly.
“Like something salvaged from the Matrian Dream Machines?” Wowryk said, “Not enough to recreate the whole thing, but maybe just enough to tweak somebody’s personality into co-operating?”
“S**t,” Stafford went pale, “And if it’s working on captured rebels, it could work on captured Starfleet officers,”
“Like Jall,” Wowryk said, “If they haven’t already,”
“I gotta go,” Stafford said, turning back towards the hanger, “The HT’s mission just got bumped up. Yanick will show you how to get into the island towers from the Transit Hub. Oh, and the Matrians have a neat little mess hall setup on the lower level. It’s a pain to find, but it beats climbing up twenty levels for Horton’s replicated stuff!”
He ran off.
“What kind of bunker is this, anyway?” Wowryk wondered to herself.
T’Parief had found Stern and the rest of the HT lounging in one of the sets of quarters they’d taken along the inside of the facility’s outer rim. He usually didn’t bother looking at silly things like furnishings or décor, but he couldn’t help but notice that these quarters were more Spartan than the ones he’d been assigned in one of the island towers. Maybe he should move out here with the HT? The island was just getting a bit too…comfortable.
In any event, Stern and the others had immediately jumped up from the sofas (they’d dragged in a couple extra ones) and followed him back to the hanger. Seconds later, Stafford ran in.
“Go get your gear,” he said, a bit out of breath, “This just turned into an emergency mission,”
“What’s the mission?” Stern asked.
“You’re going up to Silverado and you’re getting the rest of our people back,” Stafford said.
“It’s about f**king time!” Simmons cried. Stern smacked him.
“I’d wanted to take more time to plan this out,” Stafford said, “But Wowryk just informed me that the Qu’Eh may have gotten their hands on some…advanced interrogation methods.
“We’ve been planning this for a while, sir,” Stern said, “Give me two hours and a comm- link to one of the rebel cells in Matronus and we’ll be ready to go,”
“You’ve got fifteen minutes,” Stafford said flatly.
Stern’s eyes bugged out.
“MARSDEN! Get your ass up into the command complex and have Jural setup a-“
“I’m kidding!” Stafford interrupted him, “You’ve got an hour.”
Stern thought for a moment.
“MARSDEN!” he repeated, “Get your ass up into the command complex and have Jural setup a secure line! The rest of you, grab your gear and meet me back here in fifteen minutes for briefing!”
Stafford moved to where T’Parief was watching.
“And now it’s time to step back and watch the professionals at work,” he said.
“You mean watch Simmons try to remember which end of the tetryon claymore is the dangerous end,” T’Parief remarked.
T’Parief squared his shoulders.
“In any event, we will not let you down,”
He nodded at Stafford, then moved off to join Stern.
Stafford raised a finger as if to speak, thought for a moment, then lowered it.
“Hmm. He is Chief of Security after all,” he shrugged.
Jeffery was alone in the hanger workshop, tweaking the sensor-reflective device they’d rigged on the runabout Asessippi. They’d brought as much material down from Silverado as possible when they’d evacuated, and SR shielding specs had recently been added to their inventory. Of course, installing them on anything as big as Silverado was a dry-dock issue, but setting some up for the runabouts and the smaller Matrian and Senousian vessels wasn’t that big a problem. Still, up until now they’d had the advantage of operating on antigravity drive within the planet’s atmosphere, with all the handy bits of interference generated by a technologically advanced society. Now, the HT was taking the runabout into space in an attempt to rendezvous with Silverado and Jeffery wasn’t convinced that his rigged system was up to par.
“Mr. Jeffery?” a familiar voice spoke.
Jeffery looked down from the upper hull of the runabout to see Craigan, the Old Matrian rebel they’d found frozen in the facility.
“Aye, Mr. Craigan, what can Ah do for ye?”
“You’re going on the mission to free your people,” it was a statement, not a question.
“Aye. Chris and T’Parief figure there’s probably gonna be a need for some engineering wizardry, so here Ah am,” Jeffery replied good-naturedly.
“I want to come as well,”
“Chris doesn’t want any Matrian involvement in this one,” Jeffery replied, not unkindly, “This is a Starfleet mission to rescue a Starfleet crew,”
“I’m not coming as a member of the Matrian government. Or rebellion. Or anything.” Craigan replied.
“Then why come?” Jeffery shook his head, “Ah mean, we really don’t need ye,”
“I haven’t left this bunker in over two hundred years,” Craigan reminded him, “I want to see what’s happened to my world. And I don’t know why, but something is telling me that I’ve got to go with your people. I’ve learned all I can from in here,”
“Ah’m not in command of the mission,” Jeffery said, adjusting one of the power conduits, “But if Ah was, Ah’d say no. It’s dangerous enough, ye’d just be addin’ another variable to the mix,”
“We both know I could have Queen Anselia or King Hektor order Minister Stafford to allow me to go,”
“And we both know how much Chris LOVES dealing with those two right now,” Jeffery shot back.
T’Parief had strode into the work bay, arms laden with gear.
“What is the problem?” he demanded.
“The rebel boy here wants to come,” Jeffery explained, tossing a piece of rubbish down onto the floor, “Something about seeing what’s happened to his planet from the outside,”
“Very well,” T’Parief nodded, “Take a phaser, follow orders and stay out of my way,”
“Whot, just like that?” Jeffery demanded.
“You’d rather argue about it? I have had enough arguments for today,” T’Parief said firmly, “It is time to go and shoot something,”
By the time the hour was up, the Asessippi had been lowered down into the hanger bay, the huge door had swung ponderously open and several Silverado crewmen had gathered in the corridors lining the bay to watch the rescue mission depart.
Stafford, Wowryk, Anselia and Hektor were standing on the railed walkway connecting to the landing platform, watching as the runabout hatch hissed shut.
“We are not pleased about Craigan leaving on this mission,” Anselia said, “He has been acting very strangely lately,”
“Stafford to T’Parief,” Stafford tapped his comm-badge, “Umm…not to question your tactical decisions, but did you decide to take a Matrian with you without consulting me?”
“I did,” T’Parief confirmed, “It is an usual situation. Is there a problem?”
Stafford thought for a moment. Weighed the annoyance of not being included in that little decision against the irritation he could here in the large reptile’s voice, then considered the fact that Anselia was apparently pissed as well.
“No problem,” Stafford said cheerfully, “Just keeping myself in the loop, is all,”
“In the interests of stealth, I suggest we cut that loop until we return,”
With a pulse of its antigrav units, the runabout eased out into the desert.
In the runabout cockpit, Craigan sat in one of the rear seats, across from Jeffery. Yanick was piloting while T’Parief worked the co-pilot station.
“Sensor-reflective systems are workin’,” Jeffery reported from the rear, “At least, Ah think they are. Maybe we’re just the little kid coverin’ his eyes and saying ‘ye can’t see me’!”
“Take us towards the north pole,” T’Parief ordered, “Random course changes. Then up in to orbit,”
“It’s good to be flying a Starfleet ship again,” Yanick mused. She pulsed the antigrav, sending everybody clutching for their restraints. In the rear compartment, the Hazardous Team was preparing vomit bags and cleaning supplies.
Craigan was silent, staring out the window at the seemingly endless vista of sand. A rear display showed the curved, sandy hill covering the installation he’d been buried in for hundreds of years. Only the one hanger door revealed that anything was there, and even that was only visible if you were at exactly the right angle. Craigan tapped a panel, accessing the runabouts sensors. There was a slight energy reading from the masking/interference field surrounding the installation, but it was barely detectable, even with the runabout now mere kilometres from the site.
<The decision to keep the installation hidden was made before construction even started, Craigan. That turned out to have been a very wise decision.>
Craigan looked around. Yanick and T’Parief were still tapping their panels, the runabout was still jolting periodically like a toy car on a trampoline and Jeffery was still going on about sensor stuff. Outside his window, the desert was giving way to grasslands. None of them had said anything about the installation or its construction.
<The situation was already volatile, what with the early signs of the Male Rebellion. The last thing we needed was protestors. Or even worse, saboteurs. Of course, nobody could have predicted what the rebellion would to do Matronus. At least, that’s what I’d thought before.>
Craigan pushed the voice out of his head and looked back out the window.
It wasn’t long before they were in orbit of the planet.
Craigan had visited Old Matronus, as everybody called it now, when he was younger. He’d had an aunt who’d lived in the orbital city and had gone to spend some time with her. One of the memories he’d always treasured was waking up early in the city’s day/night cycle, walking out into the living room of her apartment and watching as the globe of Matria Prime came into view. He remembered how the sun had reflected off the clouds, the way the oceans seemed to sparkle, even from orbit, and how the vast forests of Agera Continent were clearly visible, even from space.
Now Old Matronus was gone, blasted into millions of pieces by the very rebellion he’d been a part of-
Craigan shook his head. Something was wrong with that train of thought. But anyway, Old Matronus was gone, his aunt was gone, the Male Rebellion was gone and everybody he’d cared about was gone.
A name almost came to Craigan’s lips. He stared out at the planet; at the wasteland where a nuclear bombardment had eaten up dozens of square kilometres of Minkat District. He could see the lights of the empty city of Raleesh, restored by male labour since the war but still empty; the Council of Governors having chosen to relocate its population for reasons Craigan didn’t know. And in orbit he could see broken satellites, abandoned space stations, and a veritable fleet of alien vessels.
“Not exactly what ye were wantin’ to see, is it?” Jeffery asked quietly, having come over to Craigan’s seat.
“It’s what I expected,” Craigan said, “I saw the holo-images in the command complex,”
“It’s never the same,” Jeffery said, “It’s yer home,”
“What would you know about it? From what I understand, your homeworld is a paradise!”
“Ah shouldn’t be tellin’ ye this, but back when Ah was an ensign, the ship Ah was on, the USS Raglan, hit a temporal anomaly and wound up in the Sol System during the Third World War,” he said, “We got out easy, just came about and went right back through the anomaly, closed it up with a particle beam and Bob’s yer uncle. But we were there long enough to get very, very detailed sensor readings of an Eastern Coalition nuclear attack,”
Jeffery’s lips tightened and he looked out Cragain’s window.
“Ye go to Earth today and ye couldn’t even tell that anything every happened. Another century or two here and ye’ll get the same thing.”
They watched Minkat District fade behind the curvature of the planet.
“We were environmentalists,” Craigan said suddenly, “Did Anselia ever tell you that?”
“Before the war,” Craigain explained, “She didn’t have a clue…was astonished when I told her. It was one of the reasons why the men were fighting so hard to get into government in the first place. Our civilization was exploiting our planet. Our cities were eating up usable farmland, our sky was getting increasingly cluttered with space junk and our colonies were going right down the same path.”
(…extremists or not, what was their motive?)
He forced the voice out of his head and looked out again, this time seeing a section of J’Taeri District that had been flattened by an artificially-induced earthquake.
“If this is what the war came to, my side lost long before the women invented their mind- control tech,” Craigan said sadly.
“We’re coming up on the Qu’Eh fleet,” T’Parief called from the co-pilot station.
Jeffery clapped Craigan on the shoulder, then went back to his workstation.
“Bring us in from the spinward side,” he suggested, “That’s where they’ve got the Senousian and Matrian ships they’ve captured. We’re probably less likely to be detected there.”
Using the thrusters as sparingly as possible, Yanick began to slowly manoeuvre them closer and closer to the enemy fleet.
“I’ve found Silverado,” T’Parief reported, “254 mark 1,”
“Ah see her!” Jeffery said, sounding exited, “Look at that!”
He put an image of the ship on one of the display screens.
“Wow,” Yanick said, “I didn’t know I’d be so happy to see her in one piece!”
“And it looks like the crew’s been busy,” Jeffery added. The nacelles were still dark and the navigational deflector was lifeless. But there was very little damage visible on the outside of the big ship. There were black streaks on the engineering hull from Qu’Eh weapons fire, but they’d been shooting to disable, not to destroy. Most of the ship was dark, but as they moved in closer Jeffery had noticed that many of the windows on the upper surface of the saucer were lit.
“Good,” Jeffery said, “They’ve restored partial power,”
“That improves the chances that our plan will be successful,” T’Parief said, pleased.
“You have a plan?” Craigan asked.
“We always have a plan,” T’Parief said confidently.
“That’s a lie,” Yanick chuckled, “But in this case, they really do have a plan.”
There was a hiss-rattle from T’Parief’s throat as his tail twitched.
“Bring us between the nacelles,” Jeffery said, “And set ‘er down right on top of the port nacelle pylon, near the emergency plasma vents.”
“I will get the EVA suits,” T’Parief said, rising from his seat.
T’Parief and the HT shuffled carefully along Silverado’s outer hull, their magnetic boots keeping them from flying off into space. Jeffery had stayed with the runabout, running a length of conduit between the runabout and the nearly-dead starship. T’Parief didn’t know the exact details of what Jeffery had planned, only that it would be helpful later on.
Around them, the Qu’Eh fleet silently orbited Matria Prime, apparently oblivious to the rescue team. T’Parief immediately spotted Chairman P’tarek’s flagship orbiting a few kilometers from Silverado. That ship would be their next stop, assuming they could successfully free the Silverado crew still aboard.
Finally, they came around the edge of the saucer to the Deck 12 airlock. Marsden was ready to attach a small power generator, but a few taps on the control panel revealed that the airlock had either been repaired or had been unaffected by Jall’s sabotage.
The airlock might have been working, but as soon as the doors opened the HT quickly found that repair efforts were still underway on Deck 12. The lights were on, but the gravity was off and a quick scan showed a stale atmosphere. Moving carefully, weapons ready, T’Parief led the HT into a Jefferies tube that would take them up a few decks.
“Phase three,” Stern reminded the troops, popping off his helmet the instant they’d found breathable atmosphere, “After successfully infiltrating the ship, we will proceed to Sickbay, where Dr. Wowryk believes we will find what we need to remove the Qu’Eh implants,”
No sooner had they arrived on Deck 6 did they encounter their first Silverado crew member. It was Lieutenant Pye.
“OH GOD, I STUBBED MY TOE!” Pye screamed, spinning away from them.
“What the…” Simmons wondered, “Thanks for the warm UMPH!”
Dar’ugal had slapped a hand over Simmons’ mouth. Pye was hopping on one foot (Deck 6 had gravity, at least). One hand was behind his back, making frantic slashing gestures towards the HT. The other was pointing insistently at what was unmistakably a Qu’Eh implant.
“YES!” Pye shouted, apparently to the empty air, “I stubbed my toe! It frickin’ HURT! No, that’s just one of the repair teams behind me, don’t get your knickers in a twist!”
The supervisor at the other end of his implant link apparently wasn’t pleased with that.
“Look, YOUR quality guidelines are supposed to prevent injury to employees, so if I’ve broken my toe, it’s gonna reflect on YOUR redesign quality review! Yeah, I thought that would shut you up!”
Pye wandered off, still hopping and cursing.
“What have they done to him?” Rengs wondered softly.
“We’ll undo it,” T’Parief shrugged, “Sickbay is right around the corner.”
“What is this stuff we’re looking for, anyway?” Simmons asked as Stern and Marsden rummaged around the storage drawers in one of the med-labs. Sickbay was one of the most heavily-shielded parts of the ship and much of its equipment had been designed to operate independently. The wall-mounted display panels and computer terminals were dead, but the lights had been repaired and the portable equipment had been unscathed by Jall’s little reactor overload.
“I’m not sure,” Stern said, moving through a small door and into a storage locker, “Wowryk said they’re for removing Borg implants, so they should make quick work of the Qu’Eh garbage. But we’ve never had an assimilated crewman, so she couldn’t quite remember where they got stashed,”
“If they had this stuff up here, why didn’t she just free them all before?” Rengs wondered.
“One of her, removing implants while surrounded by Qu’Eh ships, constantly monitored and with nowhere to run?” Stern shook his head, “They didn’t even have access to Sickbay when she left. Besides, it wasn’t until she had the chance to examine a couple of implanted Matrians on the surface that she even figured out that this stuff would work,”
“Convenient,” Simmons muttered.
“Here we are,” T’Parief said, removing an instrument that looked like a cross between a glove and a collection of gardening tools. He slipped the device over one hand and watched as the various bladed attachments came to life, as though searching for a Borg implant to excise.
“I’ve underestimated the medical profession,” he grumbled softly, imagining the bladed tips carving metallic implants right out of living flesh.
Marsden turned very, very pale.
“Oy, what are you boys doing…hey! It’s you guys!”
The HT spun, weapons snapping up at the unexpected voice. They found themselves facing a short, stocky man, either human or one of the multitude of races that looked basically human.
“Who’re you?” Stern demanded.
“That’s Crewman Goresrope,” Simmons said, dropping the business end of his weapon.
“Never heard of him,” T’Parief said suspiciously.
“The RoughHouse Leg-Humper,” Stern relaxed, referring to a string of…incidents…in Silverado’s crew lounge.
“Hey, so I get a bit friendly when I’m smashered,” Goresrope shrugged, “Look, Pye told me there was a stray repair team down here, and I’m supposed to set them straight. Do you know where they went?”
“No idea,” Simmons quipped.
“I think he means us, idiot,” Stern snapped.
“Here is the plan,” T’Parief explained, “Our allies in the Matrian Rebellion are, at this very moment, seizing control of a transporter complex in Raleesh. The city is abandoned, and so Qu’Eh reaction time will be slow. On our signal, Mr. Jeffery will deploy some sort of surprise that will-“
“What kind of surprise? Is it cake?” Goresrope demanded.
“SHUT UP!” T’Parief roared, “It will prevent the Qu’Eh from tracking the transporter beams. We will use this device,” he shoved the pointy glove-from-hell into Goresrope’s face, sending the man flinching back against the wall, “To remove the implants from your officers, who will beam down last. We will then proceed to the Qu’Eh flagship and rescue Commander Jall, as much as I would prefer to leave him there to be tortured and executed. Any questions?”
Goresrope just trembled as one of the bladed tips whirred closer and closer to his face.
“Pull the pointy thing out of his face,” Stern whispered in T’Parief’s ear.
“Oh, right,” T’Parief eased the medical device away from Goresrope’s left eye.
“A-a-a-and what do we do once we’re on the planet?” Goresrope stammered.
“You will hide in the underground cavern beneath Raleesh,” T’Parief replied, “The Qu’Eh will undoubtedly look there for you, but we have a number of small stealth ships moving into position to transport you to safety. Spread the word, we need everybody in the shuttlebay in fifteen minutes.”
“Except the officers,” Stern said, “Anybody who’s been implanted should be in the guest quarters down the hall,”
“Bring the warp core online,” Jeffery ordered, exiting the runabout airlock and moving into the cockpit.
“The Qu’Eh might pick up on that,” Yanick said, massaging her stomach.
Jeffery stared for a moment.
“Ah now it’s not my business,” he said, “But are ye…bigger?”
“You’re right, it’s NOT YOUR BUSINESS!” Yanick snapped, hitting a panel, “And warp core online, bastard!”
Craigan sat very quietly at his station, not wanting to bring any angry attention to himself.
“Good,” Jeffery swallowed, returning to his panel and shunting the warp plasma into the conduit he’d just finished splicing into one of the emergency plasma vents to Silverado’s port nacelle.
“Jeffery to T’Parief,” he said, using an extremely low-powered channel, “Ready to deploy surprise in ten minutes,”
“Acknowledged,” T’Parief’s voice came back filled with static.
“Surprise?” Yanick asked.
“Aye,” Jeffery nodded, “For this part of the plan to work, we need some radiation,”
Outside the window, the nacelle grill was starting to glow with the faintest hint of blue.
“Is this safe?”
“Oh aye, unless yer pregnant or breast fee-“ Jeffery had to duck to avoid a well-aimed tricorder that was suddenly flying towards his head, “Ah mean, aye! It’s safe!”
“RADIATION ALERT! RADIATION ALERT!” droned the voice of the Qu’Eh supervisor over implants and regular comm-links throughout Silverado’s saucer, “All employees return to main shuttlebay until decontamination is complete!”
Worried but reasonably well trained, the weary, worn out crewmembers on the ship dropped their tools, spare parts or whatever and started walking, floating or pulling themselves hand-over hand out of their repair areas and back towards the Deck 3 shuttlebay.
“I don’t know what’s causing the leak!” Lieutenant Pye said, trying to pacify Supervisor Blon, “Look, we’re picking up a radiation alarm from one of the nacelles, which have been dormant ever since we lost our warp core in that first attack!”
“This is sure to set your repair schedule back ever further!” Blon accused, sounding almost on the verge of tears, “Do you know what’s going to happen if you fall any further behind?”
“Can’t be worse than what we’re dealing with now,” Pye sighed.
“OH YES IT CAN!” Blon cried, “They’ll send the Supervisors in to work with you, ON SITE! I don’t want that any more than YOU do!”
“Sir,” Crewman Emna had jogged up to Pye, “We need all the officers in the guest quarters up the corridor. We have a…an issue.”
“Perfect,” Blon groaned over the implant link.
Pye, unlike Blon, knew damned well what was waiting for him down the corridor. He’d recognized Stern and T’Parief instantly when he’d seen them, even if Blon hadn’t gotten more than a blurry, half-second shot of them through his implant camera.
“We’d better get over there,” he said.
“Clear,” Simmons said softly, hiding behind a support strut outside the shuttlebay, “That’s all officers accounted for. There should be no Qu’Eh implants in the shuttlebay.”
“Let’s go,” Stern said.
They strode into the shuttlebay, much to the shock of everybody there. Simmons and Stern immediately un-slung transporter enhancers from their backs and started setting them up while T’Parief marched directly to the center of the huge room.
“Ladies and gentleman,” T’Parief roared, tail swishing in what could only be pure satisfaction, “Consider yourselves rescued!”
Down the corridor, Marsden and Rengs watched Pye and Bith vanish into guest quarters. Each had a standard-issue Starfleet Medical Borg Implant Removal Device strapped over one hand. (The devices were officially referred to as SM-BIRDs, though anybody who had used one had immediately started referring to them as S&M-BIRDs.)
“Rengs to Jeffery,” Rengs said softly, “Deploy surprise,”
Jeffery, on a comm-link open to the entire HT, replied immediately.
“Deploying surprise,” he replied.
On the runabout, Jeffery hit the control to send the runabout to maximum warp. The small warp core jumped into overdrive, pumping out carefully tuned drive plasma, with the expectation that said plasma would be coursing into the runabouts nacelles and sending the ship speeding through space.
What actually happened was that the plasma surged through Jeffery’s spliced connections and into Silverado’s dead port nacelle. Without computer control to work the plasma injectors or other equipment, the plasma just spurted into the warp coils before dissipating through the nacelle grills and flooding into the surrounding space, resulting in one hell of a subspace and radiological mess.
On the runabout display, sensor feeds disappeared into jumbles of meaningless data. Jeffery winced as, outside his window, he could see the high-energy plasma already eating away at the closest sections of Silverado’s hull.
“I don’t know how I ever thought you people were Matrians,” Craigan said softly, watching the psychedelic light show going on outside the runabout, “Our people just wouldn’t do this sort of thing,”
(…except that they did…and worse…) the voice whispered.
Even without sensors Jeffery could see the Qu’Eh fighters coming their way to investigate whatever was going in Silverado’s area. He switched the comm-channel to high power, now that the gig was up, and made sure the broadcast would reach their rebel friends in Raleesh transporter central.
“Surprise deployed,” he said.
In the shuttlebay, the first group of crewman positioned between the transporter enhancers vanished in Matrian transporter beams.
In the guest quarters down the hall, Supervisor Blon was cut-off mid rant.
“UNAUTHORIZED RADIATION DUMP!” she was screaming, “Communications interference! Sensor quality degradation of over 92%! And…hey…is that a transporter beam?”
The doors hissed open, revealing Marsden and Rengs. They jumped at Pye and Bith, pressing the devices against the Qu’Eh implants clamped onto their ears.
Pye and Bith both screamed bloody murder as tiny laser scalpels opened their skin and severed the implants connections. The bladed attachments clamped onto the implants themselves and eased them away as two tiny dermal regenerators repaired the damage.
“Ooops, I guess these things don’t come with anaesthesia,” Rengs gulped, standing next to a very disoriented Pye, the bloodstained implant gripped in his mechanical medical claw-thing.
“We don’t care, just get these off!” snapped Lieutenant Day, baring one ear.
“What’s going on?” Blon demanded, her voice full of static, “…lost visuals…signals indicate no vitals from employees…and Bith…”
Two more screams, two more implants removed.
“Get to the shuttlebay!” Rengs shouted.
Day followed Bith and Pye out the door. They ran quickly down the corridor and into the shuttlebay. More than half the crew was gone, another group was vanishing in a shower of transporter sparkles.
“It’s about time!” Pye snapped, “We’ve been up here for over a month! Close to two? I don’t know, we’ve lost track, but way too long!”
“We thought the fleet would be here by now,” T’Parief said, “But recent events have…changed our plans,”
“We’ve filled in your crewmembers,” Stern cut in, “You’ll be met in Raleesh by Matrian rebels. They’ll hide you there until you can be evacuated to the bunker,”
“You’ll like it,” Simmons quipped, “There’s a train and everything!”
“He’s easily amused,” Stern explained.
“What about Jall?” Pye asked.
“Our next stop,”
There was a shimmer of Starfleet transporter sparks as Jeffery, Craigan and Yanick appeared in the bay.
“Small problem,” Jeffery gulped, right before the ship shook, knocking them to the deck.
“Qu’Eh?” T’Parief demanded.
“Yup,” Jeffery nodded, “That jolt there? That was the runabout being disabled by a Qu’Eh disruptor,”
“Disabled or destroyed?”
“Well, goin’ with their pattern so far, probably disabled,” Jeffery said, “Otherwise the explosion from its warp core would have destroyed half this ship. Don’t worry, we wiped all the flight logs. And I grabbed this on the way out,”
He help up the sensor-reflective shield generator he’d cobbled together.
“The Qu’Eh love stealing ships,” Pye said, just before he vanished in a transporter beam.
“And how are we supposed to rescue Jall without the runabout?” T’Parief demanded.
The last group of crewmembers had just vanished, leaving them alone in the shuttlebay.
“Well,” Jeffery said, “Either we wait around here to be captured, or we take advantage of the fact that I passed the coordinates to P’tarek’s flagship to our rebel friends on the planet.
“So, we step into those transport enhancers, and they beam us right over?” Simmons asked.
“Aye. Ye still up fer rescuing the annoying git?”
T’Parief thought about it for a moment.
“I am having too much fun to stop now,” he said.
They stepped into the enhancer field and vanished.