Author: Brendan Chris
“Yer sure? Ah’d hate to have another accident like last time. Me ears tingled for a week!”
“I assure you, I have performed this process sufficiently to become very adept at it,”
“If ye say so,”
“Can we hurry this up?” Captain Christopher Stafford demanded impatiently, arms crossed, one foot tapping impatiently on the gangway deck, “We have a mission to accomplish, and Steven’s ‘Thank God It’s Tuesday’ lasagna isn’t going to eat itself!”
Ignoring the social irrelevancy, Lt Riven Valtaic pushed both hands into the tangle of cables and components spilling out of the access panel next to Silverado’s port torpedo bay airlock. The outside of the door, the side usually exposed to the harsh vacuum of space. Since the ship had been recovered from its slowly decaying orbit around Matria Prime and moved into Haven’s Number Three Shipyard, gangways and umbilicals had been connected one after another to the derelict ship. Power conduits, docking clamps, structural integrity field extension waveguides, fuel conduits, air, water, sewage…every possible resource that might be needed during the lengthy teardown and rebuilding of the Ambassador-class ship had been made available.
Unfortunately, being a derelict, the ship wasn’t able to use any of it yet. Every system had been fried during Commander Jall’s sabotage of the ship; his effort to keep advanced Federation technology out of the hands of the Qu’Eh. And despite the slave labour of the crew employed by said bad-guys after the ship had been captured, only limited repairs had been completed to parts of the ship.
Which led to the current situation: Valtaic, elbows deep in airlock guts while Stafford complained impatiently and Jeffery braced himself for what was likely to be a very unpleasant electrical experience.
“Eep,” Jeffery hugged himself, careful not to touch the bulkheads, railings or pretty much anything at that point.
Valtaic closed his eyes. There was a brilliant flash of light from within the open panel, followed by a series of small but bright electrical arcs that danced around the three men.
The light show continued for a couple of seconds, then fizzled out. A thin wisp of smoke slowly drifted out of the panel as Valtaic withdrew his hands.
“Well that was lovely,” Jeffery commented.
“Are you guys still alive up there?” a voice called from halfway down the gangway.
“Yeah,” Stafford called back.
There was the sound of footsteps, then Commander San Jall joined the group.
“Wow,” he said, looking from Stafford to Jeffery and back again, “I was right. Staying up here was dangerous,”
“Huh? We’re fine!” Stafford frowned.
“Uh, in body, maybe. But your hair…tsk tsk. I know people who would call that murder,” Jall pointed at Stafford’s head.
Stafford glared at his First Officer in annoyance as his hand moved to check his hair. Sure enough, the electric discharge had left it standing perfectly on end. A quick glance over at Jeffery confirmed that he too was suffering at the hands of an angry hair god.
Jall’s careful hairdo, luckily, remained undisturbed. He dropped the case that he’d carried slung on one shoulder and began handing out flashlights and oxygen masks.
“The security measures have been removed from the airlock door,” Valtaic said. He braced himself, dug his dark fingers between the door panels and, with a grunt of effort, slid them open.
“At least he can keep focused on the task at hand,” Stafford said pointedly to Jall.
“Hey, looking good is ALWAYS the task at hand!” Jall replied, deadpan.
“It’s so nice to have the family back together,” Jeffery muttered, strapping on his mask as he followed them into the dark ship.
Down in the nearly deserted mall, Noel Wowryk and Trish Yanick were seated at a table near a public replicator.
“Matthew,” Dr. Wowryk said, pouring a tiny amount of cream in her coffee. She said very properly in her chair: spine neutral, back not touching the padded chair back. Her hair was as immaculate as ever in it’s regulation bun, and her skin was its usual flawless cream colour. The recent stresses of running with the Matrian rebels as they fought to throw off the Qu’Eh were visible only in her expression, which was slightly more pinched than usual.
“Matthew Sheppard,” Sylvia piped in, “Tortured and murdered in October 1998, Earth Old Date. Considered a brutal hate crime,”
“No,” Lieutenant Yanick shook her head, careful not to jostle the egg she held cradled in a heavy blanket, “That’s a very sad legacy to carry,”
“Trish, that happened hundreds of years ago!” Wowryk replied.
“Still!” The exact opposite of Wowryk, Yanick was slumped in her seat. Her civilian attire was rumpled and stained, her hair hung down limply and her eyes were dark from lack of sleep. She’d dumped a half a pound of sugar in her coffee, then promptly forgot about the cup as her attention returned to the egg.
“All right then,” Wowryk said calmly, “Mark,”
“Mark Duggan was among the most violent gang criminal in Europe near the beginning of the 21st Century,” Sylvia’s voice cut in again. Unlike the two biological women, Sylvia’s voice was coming through a comm-badge sitting on the table. She was still running on a small Federation computer core that had been captured by Matrian rebels before the Qu’Eh attack.
“Definitely not,” Yanick’s lips twisted.
“Luke Skywalker was a galactic hero in the Star Wars saga,” Sylvia said helpfully, “Unfortunately, in 2212, a human living on Alpha Centuri by the name of Luke Sandlewood legally changed his name to Luke Skywalker and assassinated the governor of the colony with a modified mining laser,”
“You’re not helping,” Wowryk glanced down at the comm badge as she sipped her coffee.
“Trish already said no religious names,” Sylvia replied, “But if you insist on going through all thirteen apostles, I’m sure I can find issue with each one. Even Rufus,”
“There was NEVER a thirteenth apostle named Rufus!” Wowryk snapped, her calm breaking for the first time that day.
“Really?” Sylvia was silent for a moment, “I’m sorry, that query somehow wound up going to the pop culture database instead of the factual one. My mistake.”
“You could name the child Judas, as an anti-religious statement,” this time it was Fifebee’s voice coming through the comm link.
“Jane, do you mind?” Sylvia asked.
“I simply wanted to be included in the ‘girl time’,” Fifebee replied.
“Then you could have WALKED over to the table! You’ve got your own body!” Sylvia shot back.
“A valid point,” Fifebee conceded. There was a holographic shimmer nearby, then Fifebee appeared. She walked five paces to the table, then sat.
“And I do not seriously recommend you name the child Judas,” she continued, “As human males with that name have an average life span of 3.78 years less than that of other males.”
“I’M NOT NAMING THE BABY JUDAS!” Yanick shrieked, her words echoing through the empty mall. Her voice dropped back down to a murmur as she clutched the egg, “We don’t even know if it’s a him or her, yet,”
“Or perhaps a third gender,” Fifebee supplied helpfully, “After all, even normal human fetuses have the potential for intersex development. Surely the child’s unusual parentage would provide the-“
Sylvia elbowed Fifebee in the side, but it was too lake. Tears were already forming on Yanick’s face. Wowryk pulled out her medical tricorder.
“Your hormone levels are getting into the red zone again,” Wowryk said, draining her coffee in one gulp, “Let’s get back up to the clinic. I’ll even run ANOTHER genetic scan on the child, just to be sure everything’s OK,” she added, with a pointed glare in Fifebee’s direction.
“I was just trying to be helpful,” Fifebee muttered.
Simon Jeffery eased his way into Silverado’s Impulse Engineering compartment. The room was smaller than its Main Engineering counterpart, and instead of the vertical warp-core shaft it featured a broad transparent aluminum window that looked over the bank of six impulse reactors that powered Silverado’s sub-light drive system and provided auxiliary power to ship systems. Or at least they did, before Jall went and fried them all. The members of the crew captured by the Qu’Eh had affected some repairs, including several of the impulse reactors, but after their rescue the ship had fallen derelict again. On the wall, several panels worth of power distribution circuitry was exposed. Some of the circuits had been repaired, but most were blackened and scorched. The ship was still completely dark, the bulkheads lit only by Jeffery’s hand light. The air he breathed came from his mask instead of the life support systems, and the light gravity was generated by the shipyard, not the ship’s own grav plating.
Blowing an impulse reactor overload into every system on the ship. Of all the ways to stop the ship from falling into enemy hands, that bugger HAD to choose the one that would produce the most amount of work for Jeffery.
“Ach, me poor girl,” Jeffery sighed, running one hand over a dark panel. He tapped his comm badge.
“Jeffery to Dekaire,” he said, “Ah’m in place. Bring the first power conduit online, an Ah’ll start redirectin the flow from here,”
“Of course, Simon,” Dekaire’s voice seemed to purr.
There was a hum, then emergency lights slowly came on line. With a series of beeps, the panel next to the power circuits flickered to life. The ship groaned as various half-repaired systems starting gobbling power. Jeffery’s hands danced over the distribution panel as he made adjustments and balanced the flow.
Jeffery jumped so hard in the low gravity that he bounced his head off the ceiling.
“Intruder alert!” he barked into his comm badge, “Impulse engineering!”
His light was flashing all around the room, frantically investigating every shadow cast by the emergency lighting system.
“Mr. Jeffery, what’s going on?” T’Parief’s annoyed voice came over the line, “You know there are no life-signs on the ship! We checked that! The Captain was very clear that he does not want to be crawling around in the dark with some leftover Qu’Eh saboteur! As much as I would relish the chase…”
The ship rumbled and groaned again, this time lurching slightly to one side.
“Dekaire to Jeffery!” the Matrian woman’s voice was calm but sharp, “We’ve got a power surge in the port nacelle!”
Swallowing, Jeffery turned to the nearest panel.
“Just a glitch in the off-axis field controller, left over from that radiation flush,” he said, cutting power to the whole engineering section. No repair work had been completed down there, it was amazing any juice had made it as far as the field controller.
The ship stopped lurching. Jeffery quickly glanced around the room, but everything seemed to be back in order. The power circuits were now humming softly, energy flowing to a few partially repaired decks in the saucer section. One of the panels caught his eye…it should have been displaying a frequency analysis of the incoming power flow, but instead it seemed to display a narrative.
“Whot the…” Jeffery murmured as he squinted at the screen.
PATRICIA YANICK, the screen read, PRONOUNCED DEAD ON ARRIVAL AT STARBASE 45 MEDICAL CENTER. CAUSE OF DEATH AT THIS TIME IS BELIEVED TO BE RELATED TO COMPLICATIONS DURING CHILDBIRTH.
Jeffery started to re-read the text, however the screen blanked. A moment later it came back up with the power flow frequency analysis.
Jeffery tapped a couple of buttons, thought for a moment, then gave the screen a solid whack.
“Stress,” Jeffery said to himself, “It’s just stress. A war will do that to a gent.”
He picked up his toolkit and moved on to the next task.
Stafford pulled himself up through the open turbolift doors onto Silverado’s demolished bridge. The climb up nearly twenty decks from the airlock to the bridge had been surprisingly easy and quick, thanks to the low gravity, and once they’d passed Deck 10 he’d started to feel encouraged, even optimistic, over the repairs done to the ship by the crewmembers captured by the Qu’Eh.
The bridge changed that attitude quickly. Half of the helm console was still melted away, the main viewscreen was still a shattered ruin and the two auxilary consoles were mere shells. Only the rear engineering and tactical panels had been replaced, along with about half of the damaged lighting units in the ceiling.
“Ouch,” Stafford grumbled as he half walked, half floated in the low gravity.
“When I wreck something, I wreck it good,” Jall replied. The words were light, but his tone was darker than he had intended.
“I guess we know where to send the bill,” Stafford tried to smile as he looked down at his captain’s chair, but again, the mood just wasn’t behind the banter. Both armrests were scorched where the built-in panels had overloaded.
“Only if you give me a raise…do you hear that?” Jall was suddenly dead serious.
“What? I don’t here-“
There was an odd, high pitched sort of whine. With a flicker, the repaired lighting units in the ceiling came to briefly to life, faded, then came back on.
“Is Jeffery restoring power?”
There was a loud squeal from the comm system! The lights began flashing, strobe fashion as the rear panels came to life! The main viewscreen crackled, unable to display an image, but flashes of light glimmered in the corners as SOMETHING was fed into it.
Jall looked frantically around as the howling in the speakers grew, the static fading and the sound of shrieking breaking through the noise! The rear panels were now flashing, image after image skipping across the displays, none of them staying long enough for either of them to get a look! The entire ship seemed to tremble, the howling of the speakers growing louder, harsher, unbearable!
Then just as quickly, it was over. Artificial gravity kicked in, pulling them both to the deck. The lights came on, properly, and a soft breeze from the vents hinted that life support had returned to normal operation. The helm console sparked a few times before an interrupter kicked in, cutting power to the damaged circuits.
Stafford grabbed the arm of his chair, slowly pulling himself to his feet.
“What the HELL was that?” he demanded.
“Jeffery must have got the power flow from the city patched in,” Jall said, “We did restore basic life support to the upper ten decks, after all,”
“Yeah, but…was that screaming?”
“Probably a glitch?” Jall said, not looking convinced.
“Stafford to Jeffery,” Stafford tapped his comm badge, “Jeffery, what the heck was that?
Jeffery had left Impulse Engineering and was on his way to Computer Core Control when Stafford’s voice came over the channel.
“Whot was whot?” he replied, “The shaking? Just a glitch in the nacelle. Nothin’ to worry about.”
“Just a…hmmm,” Stafford sounded thoughtful, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Just a glitch,”
“Ah’m headin’ to the computer core,” Jeffery continued, “Ah doubt there’s much intact, but ye never know,”
“OK,” Stafford still sounded distracted, “We’re going to finish with the bridge, then move to Deck 2,”
“Yer sure we need to do this security check? Everythin’ fried!”
“We can’t even let the Matrian techs on board until we’ve looked her over,” Stafford said, “We’ve been over this. Jall and I make sure there’s no classified whatever laying around, T’Parief and his team check for Qu’Eh booby traps, and you make sure there aren’t any deadly engineering threats just waiting to zap us into oblivion!”
“Aye, Ah remember the briefin’!” Jeffery was a bit irked, “But…”
“What is it, Simon?”
Jeffery was thinking back to that seemingly random obituary.
“Nothin’,” he lied.
A few decks up, Lt Comd T’Parief finished ensuring that the starboard saucer airlock was functional, then started moving towards the nearest Jefferies tube that would get him to Deck 5. He was about to pull open the access hatch when he heard a soft thumping sound.
He paused, listening carefully, his tongue reflexively darting out in a vain effort to sample the air.
There it was again. A very faint sound, like something in the distance being struck repeatedly.
With a shriek of metal the hatch in from of him was forced open!
T’Parief roared, assuming an attack posture with fangs bared and claws ready.
“Oh geez,” Lt Cmd Stern jerked back slightly, “It’s just you. You startled me. Hey, did you hear a banging noise a couple seconds ago?”
T’Parief was caught completely off guard. In fact, he was probably more shocked by Stern’s lack of shock than Stern had been by coming face to face with nearly two hundred kilos of angry muscle.
“Are you on your way to Deck 5?” Stern went on, “I want to get a couple things out of my quarters,”
“You realize I nearly killed you,” T’Parief said darkly, slowly moving out of his attack posture.
“Naw, you knew who I was.” Stern waved him back, “Hey, do you think…AHHH!”
Stern cried out in real surprise as the hatch door abruptly snapped shut, pinning his leg between the panels!
“OWWWW!!!” he howled, “GET IT OUT! GET IT OUT!”
T’Parief grabbed his leg and pulled.
“Not so ROUGH!” Stern snapped, “I want to keep the damned leg!”
With a snort of annoyance, T’Parief released the leg and instead dug his fingers between the door panels. They wouldn’t budge! No wonder Stern was making such a fuss!
He kicked off a boot, jammed his toes in between his two hands and lifted up with all his might. With a groan of protest, the door opened just enough for Stern to pull his leg out.
“Thanks!” Stern gasped.
“You’re welcOOOWWW!” T’Parief cursed as his foot slipped out and the door crashed down on his fingers. He yanked, loosing a bit of skin but managing to pull himself free of the metal grip.
He and Stern looked at the now-sealed hatch for a moment.
“What the hell was THAT all about?” Stern wondered.
“With the condition this ship is in, I am amazed anything works,” T’Parief grunted, “Come. We will use the computer core access ladder.”
Looking warily back at the hatch, Stern followed him down the corridor.
Back at the airlock, Lt Valtaic was examining the mess of cables and circuits that had been the airlock security system. In an era of transporters, phaser cutters and out-of-phase wall-walkers, it seemed almost quaint to bother with something as mundane as a locked door. Even a heavy duranium airlock door. But the interference fields used by the Matrians, along with their lack of site-to-site transporter capabilities, had reminded him that every culture they encountered was a fresh roll of the dice. You never know when you might have a hostile ship clamped to your hull, trying to force their way inside through sheer brute force.
Or, in this case, leftover Qu’Eh saboteurs or disenchanted Matrian Rebels eager to bust up their government’s new starship refurbishment plan.
“I thought T’Parief was the security guy,” Stafford had groaned during their planning briefing earlier, “He didn’t say anything about checking all the airlocks, he just wants to scour the ship for booby traps!”
“And he is, of course, very correct in doing so,” Valtaic might have said. Or he could have given a long, carefully worded explanation that would have covered his ass from any possibly impression that he was infringing on the other officer’s territory, while doing exactly that. But being Lithinarian, his attitude was somewhat different.
“Mr. T’Parief is focused on the obvious threat,” he said bluntly, “and is ignoring smaller, more subtle threats. Access to the ship must be controlled, both by controlling access to the shipyard, and by securing the ship itself.”
T’Parief had bristled, either annoyed that he’d forgotten, or that the Operations officer was poking around in security matters.
“So…you want to fix the airlocks, is that it?” Stafford had said dryly.
“Repair or disable,”
“T’Parief, do you really care what he does to the airlocks?”
The reptile shook his head…but the look he was giving Valtaic was unreadable, to say the least.
“Then go nuts,” Stafford had waved a hand, clearly considering the topic closed.
And so Valtaic, having first broken through the security system to gain access to the ship, was now in the process of repairing it. All the other airlocks aside from this one and the starboard saucer airlock were completely fried and would require only cursory examination to confirm security. Of greater concern were the shuttlebay doors, which were his next stop.
Jeffery’s power activation had almost no impact on Valtaic, considering that the torbedo bay airlocks were well below the sections of the ship repaired previously. He was very puzzled that connecting the airlock to a secondary control circuit caused the emergency forcefield to blink on and the doors to snap open and shut like a pair of jaws. But he simply assumed the control circuit was as damaged as the rest of the ship, disconnected it, and moved on to the shuttlebay doors.
Nothing strange to see, nope, nothing at all.
“There, see?” Wowryk said, putting her medical tricorder back in its packing crate, “Nothing to worry about,”
“Thanks, Noel,” Yanick said, picking her egg up off the bio-bed in the Haven Command Tower Clinic and wrapping it in its blanket, “I’m just being paranoid,”
“You laid an egg,” Wowryk said flatly, “That’s happened only about half a dozen times in known Federation medical history. Caution is called for,”
“Yes, and Starfleet Medical is the epitome of caution,” Fifebee said dryly as she hefted a Starfleet Medical Borg Implant Removal Device. The various cutters and grasping arms used in the removal of small to medium sized implants clicked and whirred in a decidedly menacing manner as she adjusted the controls on the hand grip.
“Put that back!” Wowryk said primly, “I don’t want to have to re-pack any more than I have to!”
“Why are they kicking you out of the clinic, anyway?” Yanick asked.
“They’re bringing in a new Starfleet crew to take over the city,” Wowryk replied, clasping her hands together in front of her flat belly, “Dr. Annerson will be taking over the clinic. My new task is to see to the renovation of Silverado’s medical facilities.”
“Oh,” Yanick looked down at her egg.
“It’s fine,” Wowryk went on, moving to a counter and picking up a few Starfleet devices, leaving their Matrian equivalents where they sat, “A crew for every ship and starbase, after all,”
Fifebee and Yanick exchanged a glance. It wasn’t a secret anymore that Starfleet had offered command of the city to Dr. Wowryk, who had turned it down to continue practicing medicine. Now she wouldn’t even be doing that for the next few months.
“You’re still going to deliver my…uh…hatch my egg, right?” Yanick asked.
Wowryk spun around like she’d touched a live wire.
“Oh, of course!” she said quickly, “I wouldn’t DREAM of leaving that in the hands of another doctor! Each shipyard has a small clinic, I’m sure I can have an adequate setup in Shipyard Three. In fact, I was just discussing…”
As Wowryk went on about her various plans, Yanick ran her hand over the smooth, warm shell. If any doctor was up to the challenge of hatching a half-human, half-alien egg, it was Wowryk.
There was a fizzle of holographic sparks, then Sylvia appeared next to Fifebee.
“Sylvia?” Fifebee was polite, but firm, “We have discussed the dangers of overloading my holo-relay, which was after all designed to project a single hologram,”
“I’m sorry, Jane,” Sylvia said, “I just…I have this sudden feeling that I’ve forgotten something. Was there something I was supposed to do for one of you? A replicator pattern you wanted, something for the baby?” She looked around, half a frown on her face, “Are you sure one of you didn’t ask for something to eat?”
Wowryk and Yanick, the only two present that actually ate, shook their heads.
“Weird,” Sylvia muttered thoughtfully as she fizzled out.
Stafford and Jall had reached Deck 3 and had immediately gone to their respective quarters. As senior officers, both had several files and documents that were considered sensitive, though Jall had done his best to erase the more sensitive ones as soon as the Qu’Eh had moved him back to the ship. A few more padds were collected and either erased or added to the ‘important stuff’ box, but nothing ground-breaking.
Jall quickly finished, then found Stafford standing in the middle of his living room, gazing at a framed holo.
“I guess you haven’t been back here since we abandoned ship,” Jall said, stepping up to look over his shoulder. The image had been taken back at Starbase 45 after the ship had been repaired following the crash-landing on Deloria 2. The senior staff were lined up in front of the double-high windows that looked out at Silverado as she floated in the starbase’s massive docking bay. Valtaic was missing, but Commander Matt Noonan had still been present when the photo was taken.
“Yeah, well,” Stafford tossed the holo on his couch, “We’re not here to collect mementos. After we’re done this security check we can have the crew come in and collect whatever they want before the rebuild starts.”
With that he turned and stepped out of his quarters. He glanced at a padd, then moved down the hall to Jeffery’s door.
“Simon had a bunch of technical manuals in his quarters. I know you said you got them before, but better safe then sorry,”
“Is it me,” Jall said, “Or is it a little weird that we’re taking even more precautions against Federation members than we were against the Qu’Eh?”
“The Qu’Eh didn’t exactly give us time for a careful search,” Stafford pointed out.
“Hmm. Good point. They were more like ‘ahhh! torture! pain!’,” Jall waved his hands in the air for a moment, then dropped them. “Or at least ‘forms, paperwork, quality,” he amended.
Stafford went through Jeffery’s desk, ignoring the bottle of scotch that he knew Jeffery would be coming back for later. He found a couple of technical journals, along with an old Silverado efficiency report. He blanked the padds and tossed them back in the desk.
“Look…you know you can talk to me, right?” Jall said suddenly.
“About whatever’s bothering you!” Jall said.
“Nothing’s bothering me,” Stafford shrugged.”
“Really,” Jall’s voice was flat.
The lights flickered and Jeffery’s terminal flashed to life. Images skipped across the screen, but once again they were too quick for either men to make out. As quickly as it started, the lights resumed their steady glow and the terminal faded.
“That’s starting to bother me,” Stafford amended.
T’Parief and Stern had reached Deck 5. One of the weapons lockers had seemed to contain a possible booby-trap, but it had turned out to be one of Ensign Simmons’ hidden grenade caches. They tagged the weapons for removal, then resumed their walk. A few doors later they found themselves facing the Humanoid Resources office.
“Do we really need to check in there?” Stern asked, “Nobody’s used this room since we booted old what’s-her-name off the ship.”
“I never did inspect it for security breaches after she left,” T’Parief said thoughtfully.
They opened the door and stepped into the dimly lit room. The dark grey, nearly black walls with their red velvet curtains and gleaming black filing cabinets were unchanged from the early days of Silverado’s mission, other than a thin layer of dust. At the far end of the room a heavy mahogany desk sat in front of a pair of windows looking into the interior of the shipyard.
“I joined the wrong department,” Stern said flatly.
They both stiffened when they heard a soft whirring sound coming from the desk.
“You don’t think that’s a…” Stern started.
“A bomb?” T’Parief finished, “Set to go off as soon as somebody entered the room?”
“I was going to say ‘dildo’, but that too,”
They carefully approached the desk, wishing they’d brought a couple of weapons along with them.
The whirring changed pitch, stopped, resumed.
“That’s one hell of a dildo,” Stern remarked.
T’Parief growled. But it certainly wasn’t sounding like a bomb.
As they approached the desk, two hatches popped open and a pair of slender robotic arms jolted out, reaching for them with long, slender metal fingers!
“YEOOW!” Stern squeaked as one of the arms grabbed his wrist and started pulling him towards the desk!
T’Parief batted the second arm away as he tried to come to Stern’s rescue, but the arm just kept coming back! Stern had been yanked forward now, halfway leaning over the desk as two smaller appendances shot out and grasped at his shoulders, pinning him down.
The second arm decided to ignore T’Parief and go for Stern’s other wrist. T’Parief took that opportunity to grasp the human around the waist and pull backward. The grip was strong! Stern shouted again as the hands dug into his skin.
T’Parief released him, turning his attention back to the original hands. He grabbed the one gripping Stern’s left wrist and heaved with all his strength. With a low whine, the arm was forced backward, inch by inch. Of course, with Stern’s wrist coming with it, the situation was not improving.
“Conduit!” Stern suddenly shouted, “Conduit! Conduit!”
T’Parief looked around. What was he…yes! There was a slender power conduit connecting the desk to a power socked in the wall! With a yank, he pulled the conduit free. There was a series of clicks, hums and whirrs as the robotic arms abruptly went limp.
“Oh, thank God!” Stern sighed, pulling himself free from the contraption. T’Parief was staring at the small panel on the desk next to the power cord.
“It is a massage table,” he said, surprised, “Dillon Enterprises Model B-228 Managerial Massage Assistant. Built right into the desk.”
“That sure as hell didn’t feel like a massage!” Stern said, “More like a fifth of Tequila and an ass-kicking!”
“The device must have been damaged, like everything else on the ship,” T’Parief said, “It was fortunate you spotted the power conduit,”
“Huh? Oh,” Stern looked embarrassed.
“I..uh, I didn’t even notice it, actually,”
“Then why were you…” T’Parief frowned.
“Conduit is my safe-word,” Stern said quickly, then turned to leave.
T’Parief closed his eyes and shook his head.
Yanick looked calmly out the tram window at the passing cityscape. The towers and buildings of Haven were largely dark, and the sky outside the overhead dome was facing away from Matria Prime, leaving her with little to look at but the glimmering reflections of stars in the dark, glossy windows. The tram had already looped around the main city thoroughfare three times and was showing no signs of stopping.
Yanick didn’t care. She wasn’t going anywhere…didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Her quarters, the spacious, ground-floor apartment with the roomy back yard that T’Parief had found for them, would be empty. T’Parief, Stafford and Jall were working on the ship and wouldn’t be back for hours, and somehow she was just tired of Noel, Sylvia and Fifebee and all their chatter. She needed…she needed…
She didn’t really know what she needed, if she was really honest with herself. Except…oh! There was an especially shiny building!
Without really paying attention she brought her hand down on the armrest control. The tram hissed to a stop at the next street station and the doors silently eased open. Yanick stepped out, her eyes slowly scanning across the street for an entrance.
“Jeffery, this is really starting to piss me off,” Stafford said crossly.
“Yer the one what said we had to do this sweep in the first place,” Jeffery pointed out.
“Not that! All these weird malfunctions!” Stafford snapped, “You said the ship was dead! You said every circuit had been fried! Why the heck do screens and speakers and shit keep kicking in?”
“Don’t ask me, he’s the twat that did a bunch of half-assed repairs,” Jeffery shot back, pointing at Jall.
“Under threat of torture,” Jall reminded him, raising one hand.
The three men were in a small life-support processing room on Deck 10, one of the rooms that had been repaired by Jall’s team. The panels were blinking and there was a soft hum of power as the air scrubbers worked.
“The ship’s dead from Deck 10 on down,” Jeffery said, “The only spaces havin’ these problems are the ones ye gits fouled about with!”
“Under threat of torture,” Jall said yet again, “I just want to be CLEAR on that point! And the problem’s not that bad…”
As one, every monitor in the room let forth with a burst of static, noise pounding from the comm system. Stafford’s hands went straight for his ears, only to be pulled down as the grav-plating fluttered, bouncing everybody’s internal organs for several long seconds before stabilizing.
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Jall clutched his stomach.
“That’s it,” Stafford declared, “Let’s call it a day. We’ll sweep the shut down sections of the ship tomorrow while Jeffery’s techs try to figure out what the hell is going on in here,”
“Aye,” Jeffery nodded reluctantly, “Ah suppose the boys are ready fer something constructive to do. They’ve been on leave on the planet for nearly two weeks now.”
“Why the hell would you send your people on vacation at a time like this?” Stafford asked as they turned to leave.
“Well, Ah dunno about ye, but Ah know Ah’d like a wee bit o’ time off after fighting a war,” Jeffery said.
“Once the Matrians start the reconstruction,” Stafford promised, “It’ll be fine,”
“Why does this seem too easy?” Jall muttered to himself.
It seemed to easy because it was. I mean, really. You’ve probably been reading these Traks stories for a while now. You know how this works. We’re at the part of the story where shit gets real. OBVIOUSLY it wasn’t going to be easy.
“Valtaic, what the hell?” Stafford asked, facing a very closed and very locked airlock door.
“I repaired the door and activated the security protocols,” Valtaic replied, frowning slightly.
“So why won’t it open?”
“There is a malfunction. Obviously.”
Stafford tapped at the panel, entering his command code again. The panel flashed red. Again. The door refused to open, again.
“Why don’t we go up and take the saucer airlock,” Jeffery shrugged, “T’Parief and Stern will be goin’ that way anyway,”
“Sure, let’s climb through all those jefferies tubes…again,” Jall said.
“T’Parief to Stafford,” Stafford’s badge chirped, “We have a small problem,”
“Let me guess,” Stafford said darkly.
“How did he know?” Stern wondered, contemplating the locked and sealed saucer airlock they’d used to board the ship.
“He is the Captain,” T’Parief replied. Inwardly, he was rolling his eyes. It was the sort of phrase he was expected to say in circumstances like this, but really. Guessing that they were having the same problem with a locked door wasn’t exactly a brilliant leap in deductive reasoning.
“Maybe we can get at the manual override,” Jeffery suggested, reaching towards an access panel.
“I do not recommend-“ Valtaic started, right before there was a flash, a zap, and Jeffery’s hand flew away from said panel.
“CHHHRRRRIIIIISSSSS!!!!! SSSSIIIMMMMOOONNNNN!!!! DON’T LEEEEEAVE MEEEEEEE!”
Every hair on the back of Stafford’s neck stood on end. The voice coming from the speaker was crackling, twisted and completely unrecognizable.
“OK, I really want off this ship, NOW!” Jall said firmly.
“Yup, me too!” Stafford agreed.
“Valtaic to Haven Transport Operations,” Valtaic calmly tapped his badge, “Require transport from Silverado torpedo airlock to Shipyard 3,”
“Have-Trans-Ops, Lieutenant Pyesterzyks speaking,” the Androian officer’s hissing, sibilent voice came back, “I am so pleased to hear from you! These Matrian transporters have a 60% chance of turning you into ectoplasmic goo during a site-to-site transport, 50% while beaming from within the city, and while that is not exactly an honourable death, it is probably acceptable for humans,”
“Acceptable risk,” Valtaic replied.
“Excellent choice! Just give me a moment to-“
“BELAY THAT!” Stafford snapped, “There will be NO turning people into goo on my watch!”
“If I adjust the confinement beam, you are more likely to be fried to a crisp. However, the smell is very distasteful,” Pysternzyks sounded almost throughtful.
“Keep those beams away from us! Valtaic out!” Stafford poked Valtaic’s comm-badge with two fingers, “Don’t encourage him!”
“Why can’t ye just open the door again?” Jeffery asked Valtaic.
“Yeah, make with the zippity-zap so we can get out of here and find a cocktail,” Jall waved him on.
Valtaic looked blankly at them.
“Do you not think that I already tried?” he stated.
“Besides,” Valtaic continued, turning to leave the airlock antechamber, “the problem is obvious,”
Stafford, Jeffery and Jall moved after him.
“What?” Stafford finally had to prompt him.
“The ship is haunted,” Valtiac said, as though announcing the weather, “We will likely be killed in some horrible fashion, unless we can either appease the ghost or escape,”
“That has GOT to be the most ridiculous leap of deductive logic I’ve ever heard,” Jall crossed his arms.
“Today is October 31st on Earth,” Valtaic continued, “In several Earth cultures, this is the day when spirits rise from the dead. Or when serial killers or other mentally disturbed, violent psychopaths are likely to attack. I have researched it rather thoroughly,”
“Look, Valtaic,” Stafford chuckled, “That’s just a lot of superstition, or Hollywood movie makers trying to scare the money out of people. I mean, the ship’s NOT haunted!”
“My people believe that our beliefs influence reality,” Valtaic said, looking carefully up a Jefferies tube before gripping the ladder, “And this ship has been populated by many humans who believe in Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. I therefore suspect the ship is currently being haunted.”
With that, he began climbing.
“Ye know,” Jeffery said to Stafford, “Ah’m sort of relieved,”
“And why is that?”
“Ah was starting to think he was a wee bit TOO normal,”
Yanick stepped out of the building elevator and onto the rooftop terrace. The lighting system responded to her presence, activating hidden accent lights on the decorative wooden pillars, spaced in the compact formal garden and evenly spaced along the railing. Yanick moved towards the railing, egg in hand, looking up and out through the transparent dome at the stars.
She’d been there for less than five minutes when the wood paneled doors rolled open and Wowryk stepped out onto the terrace.
“Trish,” she said carefully, “Step away from the terrace,”
“How’d you find me?” Yanick asked, still looking out at the stars.
“Sylvia’s tied in with the city computer,” Wowryk replied, “When you wandered off on your own she started getting nervous,”
“It’s so nice to have everybody looking out for me,” Yanick said bitterly.
“Right,” Wowryk said, not really listening, “Trish, you need to step back from the railing, now,”
“Noel, what are you getting so worked up about? I’m not suicidal, for crying out loud!”
“No, but you’re leaning over a railing with a live egg dangling about thirty stories above the ground,” Wowryk swallowed.
“Hmmm? OH!” Yanick realized that with the egg cradled to her bosom there actually WASN’T anything other than her arm between the egg and a shell-splitting crash to the hard ground.
“It’s not like I’ve ever dropped it,” she said. But she did move back from the rail. Wowryk relaxed.
“Maybe you should think about leaving it in the incubator more often,” Wowryk suggested gently.
“NO!” Yanick snapped, “I don’t want my egg sitting in some empty room, all alone! Just like…just like…”
She looked at Wowryk for a moment, then burst into tears.
Wowryk stiffened, but moved next to Yanick and eased her into a chair.
“There, there,” she said, patting Yanick on the back, “T’Parief will be back from the ship soon, and I’m sure Jall with be around to visit before he goes off to find this evening’s sinful partner in fornication,”
“N-not me!” Yanick wiped her eyes, “I w-wasn’t talking about me!”
“Well then ,” Wowryk relaxed slightly and got to her feet, “Good. Let’s take you over to the shipyard. You can meet the out-of-wedlock father of your child and we can hopefully get something to eat before Steven’s little place gets too busy. I have a few replicator patters for meals that should help get your hormones under control,”
“Noel,” Yanick didn’t get up, “Don’t you…I mean, don’t you want to be a mother?”
“I’ve been a mother, thank you,” Noel reminded her, “To an evil alien overlord masquerading as an adorable baby,”
“I meant, for real,” Yanick started stroking her egg again, “I always thought I’d be a mom someday…but I thought I’d have the full go. Morning sickness, swollen ankles, and a belly like a cow! Instead…instead, well. I don’t know what this is,” her voice suddenly became fierce, “But it’s MINE. MY baby! And whoever he or she becomes, it will be me and T’Parief that are there to guide them, to help them learn.”
“Such is parenthood,” Wowryk said stiffly.
“So…don’t you want to be a mom? I mean, you don’t…I don’t want you to be alone,”
Wowryk crossed her arms.
“I’m not alone. I have friends aboard ship. I have family at home. And I have more male attention than I care for, thank you,” she said primly, “Now come on, let’s go meet the others.
Yanick wanted to press the issue, but Wowryk was already heading for the door, calling on her comm-badge for Sylvia and Fifebee to meet them.
“This is just great,” Jall was pacing back and forth in Impulse Engineering, waving his arms in the air, “You do realize that prime cruising time in the bar starts in three hours? That’s barely enough time to eat, shower, find something to wear and beam down to the planet! This little tasking of yours is on the verge of preventing me from getting laid!”
“Shup up, Jall!” Stafford snapped. He was standing in front of the display panels, tricorder in one hand and a padd in the other. Jeffery was at a control panel, trying to shut down power to the ship.
“Ah don’t get it,” he said for the third time, “The control system is refusing to cut power. And Major Dekaire in the shipyard can’t turn it off on her end either!”
The lights flickered again, slowly at first, then faster and faster, building up to a seizure-inducing strobe. Groans and cries emerged from the speakers, but the screens didn’t so much as blink.
“That sounds like screaming,” Jeffery swallowed, “Why would somebody on the ship be screaming?”
“There’s nobody on the ship,” Stafford reminded him.
“We’re sure of that?” Jeffery asked.
“Nobody except for the disembodied ghost, ghoul or zombie. I cannot recall which Earth belief best fits this situation,” Valtaic added.
The screams and flashing lights abruptly cut out, only to be replaced by the sound of heavy footsteps.
THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!
“Well SOMEBODY is coming this way!” Jall whispered, looking very, very worried.
“Maybe the lightning bug is right!” Jeffery gulped.
“Didn’t anybody bring a phaser?” Stafford demanded, slowly stepping towards Jall and Jeffery. The three of them were almost huddled together, looking nervously at the door.
Valtaic, on the other hand, simply stared at the door with interest.
“AAARRRRGHHHHHHH!!!!” cried a deep, gutteral voice!
“Um…um…” Stafford stuttered, “ATTACK!”
“Whot?” Jeffery looked at Stafford, who grabbed him with one arm, Jall with the other, and started pulling them towards the door.
“ATTACK!” he shouted, “ATTACK!”
Lt Cmd Stern stepped into the doorway just in time to be flatted by the three officers. They flailed about on the floor for a few moments until T’Parief, looking unimpressed with their martial arts skills, simply picked them off him one at a time.
“It’s just you two!” Stafford exclaimed, sounding half relieved and half disappointed, “What the hell was with the shouting??”
“I stubbed my toe,” Stern explained.
The monitors around them flickered, dozens of images flashing by before they resumed normal functioning.
“Chris? Did ye get that?” Jeffery asked.
“No, I dropped the tricorder when we jumped big and bigger over here,” Stafford picked up the tricorder and padd and pointed them back at the panels. He paused, then handed them to Stern. “Here, you do it,”
“We are trying to determine the nature of the entity haunting the ship,” Valtaic explained, “To do so, we-“
“The ship’s not haunted!” Stafford snapped.
“If you elimate the impossible, whatever remains-“
“Haunting IS impossible!”
“Actually, there are documented cases of non-physical-“
“Never mind,” Stafford cut him off, “Stern, just, just record whatever comes up on those panels,”
Stern and T’Parief were looking at them blankly.
“Valtaic thinks the ship is haunted,” Jeffery said helpfully.
“Just record what comes up on the panels, please,” Stafford said, rubbing his temple.
The sound of shrieking came again, this time in the distance.
“And do it quickly! This place is really starting to freak me out!”
Yanick and Wowryk had made their way to Steven’s temporary restaurant. During the resistance he had been setup in an empty Matrian restaurant in the Transit Hub, but had just moved his operation to a large lounge overlooking Shipyard Three. The furnishings and kitchen equipment was generic, replicated gear…but he was in the process of designing something a bit more elegant for the long term. In the meantime, the Silverado crew was using it as a meeting place and hangout.
They had just settled into a table next to the windows when Fifebee materialized next to them and Sylvia opened a comm channel.
“So,” Fifebee started, “Please explain-“
A sparkle of light in the shipyard caught her attention and drew gasps from the other diners in the room. Outside the window, Silverado’s running lights were flashing erratically! The windows on the upper surface of the saucer blinked on and off, causing reflections to dance along the gleaming lounge windows.
As suddenly as it started, the light show stopped. A few lights still glowed dimly in the repaired sections, but the crazy flashing had stopped.
“I suppose Simon got his finger stuck in the wrong circuit again,” Wowryk sighed, “I should probably get a burn kit and head over there,”
“But we didn’t even get to the friendly banter portion of the meal,” Fifebee said, downcast.
“If you’d been captured by the Qu’Eh, you wouldn’t be sad about missing friendly banter,” Wowryk said, rising to her feet.
“Oh come on, Noel,” Yanick said, “If there was a problem, they’d call us,”
Wowryk gave her a look.
“OK, you’re right,” Yanick admitted, “They’re men. They won’t call unless they’re near death.”
“Or out of beer,” Sylvia said helpfully.
“Stafford to Yanick,” Stafford was tapping at his badge as they climbed down a jefferies tube, “Stafford to Wowryk. Stafford to Fifebee. Stafford to Sylvia? Simon, what’s wrong with this stupid thing?”
“It was working a minute ago,” Jeffery replied.
“Turn it off, then back on again,” Stern said helpfully.
“Let’s get off this ship,” Stafford said, “Come on, let’s get down to the shuttlebay. There are EV suits, surely at least one of the doors will open,”
There was a sizzle beneath them as a force field activated. Valtaic, who had been leading the way, gave an odd little laugh as his boot skittered across the field.
“Oh come on!” Stafford groaned, “Jeffery, can you bypass that stupid thing?
“Sure, if you give me ten minutes and a tool kit,”
With a hiss, a pale mist began to gather at the bottom of the shaft. T’Parief gave a hiss of displeasure. “What the…”
“Coolant?” Jeffery frowned, “Or something from the life support system? Maybe from the water purification-“
“Either way, I don’t think we should breath it!” Jall said, “CLIMB!”
They climbed, hands and feet scrabbling at the ladder rungs while the soupy mist seethed beneath them. They passed a bulkhead to the next deck, another force field snapping on beneath them.
“We’re being pushed somewhere!”Stafford realized.
The ladies had made it to an airlock, only to find it completely sealed shut.
“Wowryk to Stafford,” Wowryk tapped her badge, “Let us in!”
“It’s official,” Yanick sighed, “They’re in trouble,”
Fifebee started tapping at the airlock controls, but they just buzzed at her.
She frowned, then tried again. This time her fingers moved over the panel with inhuman speed, entering codes at a speed closer to that of a computer than human.
Again, the panel buzzed unhelpfully.
“That should have worked,” Fifebee said. She pulled out her tricorder, tapped at it for a moment, then looked at the door expectantly.
She gave the tricorder a smack, then tried again. Again, nothing happened. A few more taps on the tricorder and she turned to the group.
“There is data flowing to the panel, but my commands are being overriden,” she said. She sudden straigtened up.
“My relay!” she snapped, right before a shower of holographic sparks rippled through her.
“Huh?” Yanick wondered.
Wowryk grabbed the relay’s handhold and pulled it around on its antigrav, sending it floating down the gangway back towards the cityside airlock.
As it moved further from the ship, Fifebee reappeared.
“As I was saying, there is a great deal of data flowing. Whatever the source is, it appeared to be attempting to gain control of my holo-relay,”
“What would do that?” Wowryk asked.
“It must be a malfunction in what’s left of the computer core,” Fifebee said, “No doubt, Mr. Jall’s repairs were…incomplete,”
The comm panel next to the airlock came to life, spewing static into the air. Outside the gangway window, the ship’s running lights were again flashing on and off erratically. Deep in the static, the distinct sound of screams could be heard. The static abruptly cleared, and the sound of dozens of people screaming wordless agony filled the gangway briefly before the sound died out.
“Trish,” Wowryk said calmly, “I will have Nurse Veeneman come to get your egg.”
“Yeah, Noel,” Yanick said, unconsciously moving away from the airlock, “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.”
“Fifebee, can your relay project you into the ship from this distance?”
“Good. Wowryk to Lieutenant Sage. I need a cutting laser at Silverado’s starboard saucer airlock. Now.”
“Quick!” Jeffery shouted, “Take a left up ahead! We can double back to Jefferies tube 3 and down to the airlock!”
Stafford sprinted to the next corridor junction and was about to take a hard left, only to have the ceiling groan, then collapse down in a rain of debris. He darted back, but his arm had already crossed the boundary and was abruptly yanked down to the deck, pulling him along with it. With a groan he pulled it back, then regained his footing.
“Gravity plating overload!” he said.
“Now what” Jall asked.
“Let me lead the way,” T’Parief said, pushing Stafford towards the rear, “This is now a security situation.
There was a flash behind them as panels started overloading, throwing showers of sparks into the corridor.
“OK, let’s go that way,” Stafford shouted at T’Parief, point away from the sparks.
They ran again.
“What is going ON in there?” Yanick wondered, clutching her sides as the ships lights flashed again and the screams emerged from the speaker. Her egg had been spirited to safety, and a bulky Matrian construction droid was using one of its cutting beams to slowly cut away the airlock door.
“Most likely, Jeffery saw his own blood and puked on something electrical, important, and sensitive to fluids,” Wowryk replied, “Or there’s an enraged werewolf in there tearing people limb from limb,”
“Only T’Parief does that,” Yanick replied.
“Maybe he’s gone on a killing spree,” Fifebee said helpfully, “Jall does have that effect on some people. Especially when he and the Captain are fighting,”
“Maybe,” Yanick said doubtfully, “Just hurry up and get us in there!”
“God, I want out of here!” Jall snapped.
They’d been pushed towards another Jefferies tube, finding themselves faced with the options of going down the tube, running into a force field, going down a corridor rapidly cooling to absolute zero or slowly suffocating as the air in the corridor junction was slowly drained away. Obviously, they’d scurried down the tube. They’d been forced out on Deck 9 and pushed towards the center of the saucer until they found themselves at a wide set of double doors.
“Computer core control!” Jeffery gasped, “Of course!” He spun to face Jall. “What did ye DO?”
“Me? What did I do?” Jall replied.
“What? I mean,” Jall shook his head, “I didn’t DO anything!”
“Ye were in charge of fixin’ this place when the Qu’Eh were here! Obviously, ye knackered somethin’ up in the core, and now it’s trying to kill us!”
“Computers don’t just randomly start trying to kill people,” Jall waved him off, “Besides, all we did was replace a bunch of circuits. But we were missing so many parts that there’s no WAY the core could be functioning in any meaningful way,”
“Can we just go in and find out what’s causing all this, instead of standing out here guessing?” Stern asked.
“Hmmm,” T’Parief agreed.
“Let’s go,” Stafford agreed, moving to the doors only to have T’Parief shove him away.
The doors hissed open and they stepped into the control room.
The panels were flashing all around them, images skipping by too quickly for the eye to see. Memory access lights were blinking, indicating core data access. But through an observation port they could see that Jall was right: The banks of processing units sparked, wisps of smoke drifted between columns of equipment and odd sounds of electonic strain could faintly be heard.
“This is very wrong,” Stern said quietly, “Very, very, wrong,”
They turned to see that Stern had gone horribly white. Images flashed slowly over his face as he swallowed. He was holding the tricorder in one hand, the sensors facing a bank of panels. The other held the display padd it was linked to. Noticing their gaze, he slowly turned the padd to face them. The tricorder was recording the images that flashed by, too quickly for the eye to catch. Then displayed them, much more slowly.
Scenes of torture and carnage filled the display. Bodies butchered, blood gushing, entrails hanging from opened body cavities. One image clearly showed Jall being broken on the rack. Another showed a snarling, fanged reptile, possibly T’Parief, tearing Yanick and Wowryk to shred. Starships exploded, bodies being vaulted into the vacuum only to burst from the sudden change in pressure.
T’Parief’s stomache rumbled.
“Sick,” Jall muttered.
“Inaccurate,” Valtaic amended.
“What?” Stafford tore his eyes away from the gruesome imagery.
“Bodies do not burst like that,” Valtaic said, “And according to mission logs, Mr. Jall was tortured with a Matrian device, not a rack,”
“I was also tortured once with a weird memory transfer thingy,” Jall said, “Oh! And those primitives on Delori II. They didn’t have a rack though. I don’t think?”
A burst of screams surged from the speakers.
Again, they turned to Jall.
“What did you DO when people were working on the core??” Stafford demanded, “There must be something…some small detail that could make the whole thing go this wonky!”
“I swear, I didn’t do a thing!” Jall objected, “The Qu’Eh were forcing us to do repairs, but there was no way we could fix the core without about five tons of replacement parts and thirty brains worth of bioneural tissue!”
“Well, OK, they grow it in a lab, but you get what I mean,”
“Wait…ye…ye DIDN’T try to repair any of the bioneural circuits, did you?” Jeffery demanded.
“Are you kidding? The Qu’Eh are nowhere near the level of biotechnology needed to make new ones!”
“Oh, thank ye merciful God,” Jeffery sighed, relieved.
“I used the spares you had stashed in the matter reclamation center,” Jall finished, “There wasn’t anywhere near enough, but it made the Supervisor happy,”
Jeffery’s eyes bugged out.
“Ah didn’t have any…GIBSON! Ohhh, that little punk was supposed to vaporize those! THEY WERE EXPIRED!”
“What happens when you use expired gel-packs?” he asked.
“This, apparently,” Jeffery said, gesturing to the flashing screens around them and the scenes of butchery on Stern’s padd.
“So, now what?”
“Now,” a smooth female voice cut in, “We play,”
“I have life signs near computer core control,” Fifebee said, holding her tricorder as they walked along Deck 10, “Strange energy readings,”
“I wish I’d brought a phaser,” Wowryk said.
“I have one,” Yanick said, pulling a hand phaser from one pocket.
“I’m from the farm. Nuff said.”
“I really feel like I forgot something,” Sylvia’s voice came over the comm.
“Who’s there!?” Stafford demanded, “Show yourself!”
“I’d love to,” the voice said, “But somebody wasn’t nice enough to lend me her holographic generator. I suppose this will have to do,”
The main display across from the door blanked, then a familiar face appeared on the screen.
“Sylvia!” Stafford exclaimed, “What a relief! It’s just you!”
“Is it?” the image was right, but the voice was different. Deeper, throatier. And somehow…darker. “I don’t think it’s me. Or at least, not all of me. But certain the more…interesting parts of me. Y’know what I’m thinking?”
The screens flickered, then an image of Stafford appeared, screaming as he was slowly dissolved in what had to be a malfunctioning transporter beam, his body distorting as the beams twisted.
“You’re not Sylvia!” Jall snapped.
“I didn’t say I was,” the woman on the main screen said, “I think I sort of am though.” The screens changed, this time showing Jall fully nude, wrapped in an energetic embrace as he and his partner lost themselves in ecstasy.
“I am her blackness,” the woman said, “I am her nightmares. The terrible visions she never allows herself to see. The desires she would never herself feel. Pain and death, loss and sorrow. All that is dark in the world. All that is…evil!”
“Dark Sylvia?” Valtaic ventured.
“Yessss!” Dark Sylvia hissed.
“That doesn’t look very terrifying,” Valtaic pointed out, gesturing at the image of Jall’s coital bliss.
“Look more closely,” Jall said, looking like he was about to be sick, “That’s a woman on there with imaginary me,”
“Valtaic, can you fry this thing?” Stafford demanded.
Valtaic moved towards the nearest panel, but a bolt of energy shot out, briefly enveloping him. Most of the current flowed across the conductive veins in his skin, but enough made it through to make his teeth chatter.
“I think it’s more likely to fry me.” he said.
“Maybe we should do this the Starfleet way?” Jall suggested.
“Fine,” Stafford rolled his eyes, then turned back to Dark Sylvia.
“What do you want?”
“Your torture, pain and eventual death,” she replied pleasantly.
“You could have had that an hour ago, when you were pushing us around the ship like chess pieces,”
“I still can,”
“Sure. But why bring us here?”
“Why did you come?”
“Because you made us!”
“She is stalling,” T’Parief said softly.
“Yes I am,” Dark Sylvia gave a dark grin, “Very well, there is something I want, and I need you here to get it,”
“A body,” Valtaic spoke up suddenly, “Of course. You can do nothing in this form, except to those aboard the ship,”
“And the ship is about to be torn apart,” Stafford said, understanding, “You need a way to escape!”
“And if ye are some twisted version of Sylvia, ye know how she gets away from the ship!” Jeffery finished.
Dark Sylvia continued to smile while the images of pain flashed around them.
“Well, that’s easy,” Jall grinned, “We just keep holograms and portable data storage far away from here. The Matrians will come looking for us sooner or later,”
“You’re half right,” Dark Sylvia nodded.
The doors hissed open.
“There you are!” Wowryk snapped, “What the hell did you people do?? Simon, did you spill your coffee in the fire-suppression control systems again?”
“Ewww,” Yanick’s hand went to her mouth as she stepped inside, “You guys know snuff films are illegal, right?”
“That’s not a real person being chain-sawed!” Stafford snapped, “Wait, you didn’t…SHIT!”
“Hello to you too,” Fifebee said flatly.
“Hello, escape route!” Dark Sylvia giggled.
“Sylvia?” Yanick frowned.
“Dark Sylvia,” Jall crossed his arms, “Apparently,”
Fifebee started flickering again.
“She is attempting to follow my transmission carrier back to the relay!” she said.
Dark Sylvia’s image smiled as she leaned forward. Fifebee continued to flicker, the battle moving from the physical plane into the dataspaces.
Valtaic tried to make another break for a panel, but another bolt of energy stopped him.
“Fifebee, you can’t let her escape!” Jeffery snapped, “If she gets into the city systems…if she can pull the same stunts in a fully functional space station that she was pulling in a crippled ship…”
“She could bring the whole place apart around us!” Stafford realized, “She could dump antimatter into the Matrian atmosphere!”
“Worse, she could transmit herself across the entire Federnet!” Jall jumped in, “She’s not actually Sylvia, just an incomplete copy! She could replicate throughout the Federation!”
“I hadn’t thought of ANY of that!” Dark Sylvia tittered with glee, “Excellent! I wanted to bring pain and death to a few dozen, but I will become a source of agony for TRILLIONS!”
“We’ve got to stop her!” Stafford said firmly, “Jall? Jeffery? T’Parief? ANYBODY? Ideas here?”
“It’s fine,” Yanick said, stepping up to the group, “She’s toast.”
“Huh?” Even Dark Sylvia looked confused. She was fine, after all.
“I took care of it,” Yanick assured them.
Everybody looked from Yanick, to Dark Sylvia, then back to Yanick.
Abruptly, Dark Sylvia fizzled out with barely a peep. Jaws dropped open.
“How did you DO that?” Jall demanded.
“Oh, I tied my tricorder into one of the data ports over by the door,” Yanick said, “Then I used a cross…crossphasic multi….I used some weird frequency thing to make sure she couldn’t mess with the signal,”
“How did ye know to do all that?” Jeffery asked.
“I helped,” Sylvia’s voice came over Yanick’s comm badge, “I knew what was happening as soon as Jane entered the room.”
“You see, I’ve been feeling very upbeat ever since Silverado’s warp core exploded and I was extracted from Jane’s program. I couldn’t figure out why, but I just felt so GOOD about everything. And now I know why: When I hid in Jane’s program, my memories were fragmented. Simon recovered many of them when he attempted to repair me, but it seems that anything…dark…anything I normally repress or delete, was pushed so deep into the database that nobody could find it. Somehow, they seem to have coalesced around enough residual data to form a partial personality,”
“How the HELL does THAT happen??” Stafford demanded.
“Expired gel-pack,” Jeffery came up behind Jall and smacked him upside the head, “THIS IS WHY WE RESPECT BEST-BEFORE DATES!”
“Ow,” Jall muttered.
“Anyway, I reclaimed the memories, severed the data links to the expired gel-pack and shut the whole thing down,” Sylvia finished, “Easy, once you know what the problem is,”
“That was one doozey of a problem,” Wowryk said crossly.
“But nobody was hurt,” Yanick sounded relived, “And Jeffery didn’t screw things up anywhere near as badly as you thought he did,”
“Yeah, it was Jall…HEY!” Jeffery gave Wowryk a hurt look.
“I just mentioned a couple of your past…errors,” she said.
“I am pleased my first haunting ended successfully,” Valtaic said pleasantly.
“This wasn’t a haunting, ye git, just a malfunction,” Jeffery snapped.
“A disembodied intelliegence attempted to maim and kill us. I believe that qualifies,” Valtaic replied.
“Let’s go,” Stafford said, cutting off Jeffery’s reply, “The sooner we rip this computer core apart, the better,”
They looked briefly around the darkened screens, shivered, then left.
Captain’s Log, Supplimental:
“Yuck. Counselor Yvonnokoff just insisted on reviewing the footage that Stern captured. She’s put all of us into intensive therapy, which involves way too much time sitting around talking about the disgusting things on that recording.”
“In other news, Jeffery has pulled the expired gel-packs and cut all power to the computer core. We’ve finished our preliminary checks of the ship and sent our findings to Starfleet. So hopefully we can get things moving on that front.”
“It doesn’t look any different,” Stafford said, gazing at the gel-pack as it sat on the bio-bed in the Shipyard Three clinic.
“Neither does milk if it goes bad,” Sylvia said, having borrowed Fifebee’s relay so that she could handle this part in person, “But if you smell it you’ll sure know the difference,”
“You sure about this? I mean, that is sort of you, isn’t it?”
“No, no it isn’t,” Sylvia said firmly. She picked up the gel-pack, stepped over to a matter reclamator, placed it on the tray and hit the button. With a whirl of molecules, it disintegrated.
“That’s that,” Sylvia said, wiping her hands.
“Hmm,” Wowryk crossed her arms.
“Noel?” Stafford asked.
“Sylvia,” Wowryk bit her lip for a moment, “We all have our dark secrets and urges, but I must say, yours were far, far darker than anything that’s ever gone through my mind,”
“I’ll second that,” Jall agreed.
“I have a great deal of processing power, and perhaps too much time to think,” Sylvia said, giving a sad grin, “But I’m afraid you don’t understand.”
“Those dark images, the obituary Simon saw, the attempts on your lives…those aren’t urges. It wasn’t my desires that the expired gel-pack picked up on…it was my worst fears. Things I worry about, things that frighten me. Things that I hope NEVER come true. I suppose that’s why I didn’t question the reason why so much of that baggage had just sort of…disappeared. But I assure you, with the gel-pack destroyed and my fears back where they belong, I promise you never see that…that perversion of me, again.”
“Well, ten minutes with Dark Sylvia was more than enough for me,” Jall said, “And if you’ll excuse me, somewhere down on that planet is a time zone where the bars are just getting hopping. So I’ll be on my way,”
“Yeah, I think I’ve had enough for one day,” Stafford agreed, “Sylvia, thanks for clearing that up. I’m off to bed.”
“Sleep well,” Sylvia offered.
Stafford thought for a moment.
“After Noel gives me a sleeping pill,” he amended.
“Of course,” Wowryk smiled, “In fact, sleeping pills all around!