Author: Brendan Chris
Author’s Note: OK, there is one paragraph that’s full of Halfway to Haven spoilers…but I couldn’t bring myself to take it out.
“Aw Simon, come on!” Captain Christopher Stafford whined, though of course he would deny that the eager, pleading tone he was using was whining. Would deny it to his last breath. But the truth is, he was whining. “Let me on board! How can you let me up here, let me see all of this, but not let me actually go inside!”
“Ah have orders, ye know,” Jeffery said for about the third time, “Ye can’t go aboard until she’s ready.”
“I’m pretty sure we both outrank you,” Commander San Jall, First Officer, pointed out, “And as much as I hate acknowledging his authority…” Jall trailed off, then gazed thoughtfully out the windows for a moment before returning his attention to Jeffery, “Hmm. Never mind. Carry on,”
And with that, he crossed his arms and took a step back, leaving Stafford pretty much on his own.
“Thanks, ass,” Stafford snapped. He turned back to Jeffery, “But he’s right. I’m your Commanding Officer, and I’m-“
“OK, not orders,” Jeffery cut him off, “Then policy. And regulations. Most of them safety regulations.” He dropped his voice and moved closer, “Look mate, Ah haven’t been aboard yet either. And ye know what? Ah’m OK with that. Ah don’t care if Sylvia ‘fixed’ them, or if the ones in this shipyard weren’t affected. But these Matrian construction bots creep the bejeezus out of me. Did ye know that Shurgroe…ye remember Shurgroe? The one that keeps twitching? He found one of them wandering around in the snow! And of course ye remember how Colonel Abela had them programmed to defend her stasis pod when we found the place.”
“With lethal force, I might add,” Lt Comd Riven Valtaic, Ops Officer pointed out.
“Yeah, Chris,” Lt Trish Yanick, helmswoman, looked uncomfortable, “I’m sort of with them on this one. Besides…it’s not finished yet! It’s not even painted!”
‘It’ was the Federation Starship Silverado. ‘It’ had been their home for a good four years…and then crippled for another. Drifting in orbit of Matria Prime during the Qu’Eh occupation, recovered after the launch of Haven and eventually handed over to Master Shipbuilder Dekaire for a complete and total reconstruction. ‘It’ was sitting in Haven’s Number Three shipyard, supported by numerous anti-gravity fields and tractor beams now that the city had landed on one of the barren, airless moons of Matria VI. And ‘it’ was almost, nearly complete.
“Chris…Captain,” Jeffery said, “Would ye…would ye please just push the buttons? The Matrians are all watching, and ye know, it’ll just be another week of testing…maybe two if we find problems. And then it’ll be time for ye to do yer Captain’s Tour and take her out on a shakedown cruise, OK?”
“Yes,” Queen Anselia, co-ruler of the Matrian Republic said, “We, by which We mean both myself and the rest of the guests here, would be most eager to get this underway,”
Oh yeah. Stafford and his crew were wearing their dress whites. The King and Queen of Matria had come to 3CC, the shipyard control center, along with the Federation Ambassador to Matria Prime, the new Planetary Defence Minister, the Minister of Industry and a host of other dignitaries.
“And I only did that as an insurance policy,” Colonel Abela said acidly, “And rightly so!”
“Please,” Captain Elizabeth Simplot rolled her eyes, “Two hundred years in that tube, and the only people who tried to bother you were the people who rescued you! You just made it twice as hard for them!”
“Why did we invite the Haven crew to this?” Stafford groaned.
“Because it’s our frickin’ city!” Simplot and Abela snapped together.
“And our shipyard did all the work,” Abela added.
“Please, sir,” Lt Wyer requested politely, “Just press the buttons so we can leave.” Next to him, Shrugroe twitched. Dr Annerson, the city medical officer, jabbed him with a hypospray then winked at Stafford.
Realizing that yes, he would really like this whole business to be done with, Stafford stepped forward and reached towards the glowing holographic buttons hovering over one of the control panels.
And pulled it away at the last minute. There was an explosion of annoyed groans from the crowd.
“Sylvia?” Stafford said, turning to the AI’s holographic avatar, “Is there…you know…anything you want to say? This is your body and all. And…um, I don’t know if everybody here is aware or not, but without Sylvia fighting that Matrian virus that took out Silverado’s warp core, well, the core still would have been in the ship when it exploded. We’d all be dead, and the Qu’Eh would still be running your planet. And she nearly died…or was corrupted. Or deleted. Or something.” His voice suddenly rose, “So I think you ass-hats owe her a few minutes of your time, or at least some recognition!”
Queen Anselia looked thoughtful, then nodded.
“We agree,” she said.
“Thank you, Chris,” Sylvia stepped forward and smiled nervously at the assembled dignitaries, “I actually don’t have anything to say. However…I would be very grateful if you would let me press the buttons,”
Stafford shrugged, then stopped off to one side. Sylvia moved forward, extended a hand, then brought it down on the first button. There was a soft tone, then outside the window one of the construction bots jetted into motion.
Silverado was nearly complete. Months of intensive robotic labour had stripped her down, repaired or replaced every single component from the warp core to the screws that held the toilet paper dispensers. The only piece missing was a single hull plate. The same hull plate, it fact, that had been the first to be cut out when the reconstruction had begun. Now, the bot pressed the plate back into place and activated its welding arm. With four neat, perfect strokes it welded the plate back into place.
There was polite applause from the VIPs. Then, with a nod from Jeffery, Sylvia hit the second button. There was another tone, then dozens of bots burst into motion, each holding a paint sprayer.
“This part’s gonna take a while, folks,” Major Dekaire spoke up, “During this final week, the bots will repaint the ship, add the Federation colours, the name and registry and such. During that time my team and I will conduct final testing. We look forward to hosting you all here for the launch next week,”
“In the meantime,” Colonel Abela stepped forward, “I believe the Matrian Arms has suites waiting for you?”
“Oh, thank you,” Queen Anselia said, “But we, meaning all of us, will be heading back to Matria Prime. Perhaps once you have the lake and the city atmosphere fully replenished We…meaning at least Myself…will come for a visit,”
“Ah, of course, your Highness,” Abela did not look pleased.
“But before We leave, We would like a…private moment…with Captain Stafford,” Anselia gave Stafford a hungry look that left little room for interpretation.
“Dear Lord, I hope she means ‘We’ as in ‘just her royal self’,” Stafford muttered to Jall. Wowryk overheard and jammed an elbow into his kidney.
“Have fun,” Jall said, “We’re going to the steak…um…to that place,” he glanced at Abela and Simplot, “Where we eat.”
Colonel Abela knew about the secret Silverado Steakhouse that they’d opened up off the shipyard. So did Captain Simplot. But Abela pretended not to know, as a favour to the crew that had rescued her and launched her city. Otherwise there would be permits and fuss with the Matrian Council over the opening of a business at a time when the city was still off-limits to most. Simplot also knew because her lazy, obnoxious Chief of Security had shown it to her when he was trying to get under her pants. She didn’t tell Abela because she didn’t want it closed and shut down. Abela didn’t tell Simplot she knew about it because it would mean admitting that she was capable of bending the rules once in a while.
Not the most trusting of relationships.
“Yeah,” Stafford said, looking at Abela and Simplot as they both tried hard to look innocent, “I’ll see you there.”
The next day wasn’t exactly the weekend…but it was two days off for most of the Silverado officers. The work cycle aboard Haven had been a bit hectic…or not, depending on what stage the ship reconstruction was at and whether or not there was a crisis happening at the time. And with the city now a runabout trip away from Matria Prime instead of a convenient transporter beam, it was no longer practical to simply pop down to the planet for an evening or afternoon. No, now they had to arrange a runabout, get departure clearance, fly across a good sized chunk of the Matrian solar system, arrange arrival clearance, land the thing or arrange an orbit and beam down.
Bottom line, it wasn’t worth making the trip for anything less than a day. And they had a few days off while they waited for the shipyard crew and the bots to finish working on the ship.
“Sorry I’m late,” Stafford said, stepping aboard the runabout Asessippi. The Asessippi had been with Silverado since she’d been launched…well, not the first time, but after she’d been pulled out of the scrap heap and launched with her current crew. And for some reason, she’d been the runabout the senior staff had claimed for their trips to Matria Prime, leaving the Niagara to the Beta shift and the four unnamed runabouts to the rest of the crew.
“It’s OK,” Wowryk said from the side console, “Sem doesn’t finish his shift at the clinic for two more hours,”
“No, it’s NOT OK!” Yanick corrected her from the helm, “It’s going to take almost two hours to get there! And do you know how unhealthy it is for babies to be stuck indoors all day? Until they get the air and water back in Haven’s dome, the planet is the only place I can take Allona!”
Stafford opened his mouth…paused and looked over to Wowryk. She gave her head a tiny shake, probably indicating that yes, she had already mentioned that exposing babies to alien environments wasn’t exactly the same as exposing them to the environment of their home-world. And no, Yanick wasn’t receptive to the information.
“Where is the little, um, darling?” he asked.
“In the back, puking into my bag of EXPENSIVE DESIGNER CLOTHS!” Jall announced loudly, storming in from the rear compartment.
“I told T’Parief where the puke rag was!” Yanick objected
“I am sure you did,” Jall grumbled, flopping into the co-pilot seat. He turned to Stafford, “Why are you coming to the planet anyway? I’m trying to get drunk. And laid. Yanick and T’Parief are taking their kid down for the weekend and Wowryk, as much as I think it’s all a trick, is spending a romantic evening at a spa with her boy-toy,”
“It’s not romance, it’s a pore cleansing!” Wowryk said.
“So it’s just going to be you…and a man…in fuzzy bathrobes and towels all weekend?” Stafford asked carefully.
“If you picture it, I will ensure you associate the image with pain everlasting,” Wowryk said pleasantly.
“I’m not…I’m not…” Stafford bit his lip, then looked at the floor. “OK,” he said, very softly, “So I pictured it.”
“Hmm,” Wowryk waiting until he looked up, then held up a padd. Stafford’s eyes widened for a moment, then they crossed and he fell to the deck.
Yanick jumped to her feet.
“What did you show him!” she demanded.
“Jall’s ‘Guy-dar Galactic’ profile,” Wowryk smirked.
“HEY!” Jall snapped, “That’s private!”
“Please,” Wowryk waved him away, “It’s visible to any homosexual mammal within half a light-year,”
Yanick glanced at the padd.
“Really? You’re into-“
Jall grabbed the padd, tossed it to the deck and crushed it beneath one boot.
“Sometimes you have to have a separation between work life and home life,” he said.
“Jeffery to Stafford,”
Wowryk, Jall and Yanick all exchanged glances. Stafford was still on the deck, rubbing his eyes and twitching.
“You knocked him out,” Jall said pointedly to Wowryk. Yanick shrugged.
“Simon, this is Noel. The Captain is…is currently recovering from a minor neural shock. Is this urgent?”
“Uh, aye. It may be. Ah need to see him before he leaves for Matria Prime,”
“Too easy,” Jall jumped out of his seat. He grabbed Stafford under the armpits, dragged him out the runabout hatch and left him on the hanger deck.
“OK,” he said, slightly out of breath, “Tell Jeffery he’ll meet him in the hanger. Let’s go.”
Wowryk was about to protest, but the chrono on the panel caught her eye.
“Drat, now we actually are running behind!” she said, “Simon, the Captain is in the hanger. Come get him, Wowryk out,”
Yanick tapped in the departure sequence the second they had clearance from HCC. As the runabout departed, leaving Stafford on the deck, Jall crossed his arms.
“It wasn’t THAT bad of a photo!’ he said.
It wasn’t exactly a hop, skip and a jump over to Matria Prime. But when you’re travelling at a quarter the speed of light, it doesn’t exactly take that long either.
“We’re approaching the landing co-ordinates,” Yanick announced from the helm, “I think,”
“You think?” T’Parief asked, tensing up as he became alert to a possible threat. In his arms, Allona started pawing at his com-badge.
“No, my spawn,” he cooed, “If you open a channel to the Captain again, he will be most displeased. I would hate to have to kill him for speaking harshly at you,”
Jall cleared his throat, but after a moment’s thought decided to let the comment pass.
“What’s the matter, Trish?” Wowryk asked, “Aren’t we at Nashawa yet?”
“I’m following the landing beacon for the Nashawa city spaceport,” Yanick said, “But…there’s no city! We’re in the middle of the ocean!”
“Nashawa is an underwater city,” Jall explained, “It was abandoned early in the Gender Wars, so it’s taken the Matrians a little while to find it and get it up and running,”
“You never told me the city we were going to was underwater!” Yanick snapped, “How am I supposed to take Allona outside if we’re in a dome under hundreds of meters of ocean!”
“Oh, you can’t. There’s no dome. The buildings are water-tight,” Jall shrugged.
“So we’ve gone from a space station to a submarine! San, you are such an asshole!”
“There’s still the spaceport!” Jall pointed out the window at the rapidly approaching tower, “See? I think there’s a small park or something on top. Like the towers in Haven,”
“Ohhhh!!!” Yanick seethed.
They landed on a fairly standard docking pad, pretty much a box cut into the side of the tower, one of hundreds. The lowest, widest level of the floating spaceport had a number of larger landing pads. Even as they watched, a commercial sub-orbital transport arrived with a flash of breaking thrusters and a dull, soft thump. The edge of the structure was lined with docks, and Jall informed them that there was a regular ferry service to the mainland, although the closest land city was a good three hours away. Yanick might have jabbed an elbow in his kidney at that, but he sure as hell wasn’t saying anything about it. They met Dr Darik near the broad double doors that proclaimed ‘To Nashawa’ in several Matrian scripts. A hastily made sign underneath had the Federation Standard translation.
“Sem,” Wowryk said happily, reaching out to grasp his hands in hers briefly.
“Noel,” he smiled back, “Blessed day,”
“OK, we’re running on a timeline here,” Jall said guiding the group down the passageway. Windows ran along one side of the downward sloping corridor, and within seconds the only light was that which filtered in through the seawater outside. They approached a large chamber ringed with large elevators, each looking like they could hold two dozen people comfortably.
“Hmmm,” Wowryk said, looking over Darik’s shoulder at an electronic pamphlet as they filed into the elevator, “It says that although the spaceport is a new construction, the city itself is nearly four hundred years old. Parts of it, anyway,”
“Did you know,” Jall spoke up, “That Nashawa is actually really close to the Earth Arabic word ‘Nashwa’, which in English is that thing where God comes down and takes everybody to Heaven, except for anybody who’s on the naughty list.”
“Oh, you mean the Rapt-“ Wowryk was cut off by a loud bell-like tone. There was a slight jolt, then the elevator began descending, the transparent walls growing darker as the light above was diffused by the water.
“Ladies and gentlemen, gentleman and ladies,” an androgynous voice spoke over the speakers, “Welcome. You are about to experience one of the wonders of the Old Matrian world! Centuries ago, our people spread far across this world and beyond it. Outposts throughout our solar system, colonies on other worlds, even embassies and small communities amongst our neighbours. And the more our ancestors saw of the worlds around us, the more they came to cherish the homeworld. The Old Matrians looked in dismay as their cities continued to spread, consuming the farmland that fed them, the rivers that slacked their thirst, the plains and parkland that supported not only them, but the tens of thousands of species of wildlife with whom we share this world. And so they began to expand elsewhere. The city of Wetria, floating along the waves. The cities of Old Matronus and now Haven, where our people may live among the stars. Cities on and beneath the water, in the inhospitable desert, even in the sky.”
“Well that attitude sure didn’t last long,” Yanick rolled her eyes. Despite the dark look from a nearby Matrian couple, she had a point. The Gender Wars had done a pretty good job of trashing large swaths of the planet. Outside the elevator it was almost pitch black. There was a slight sensation of motion and Jall realized the lift was moving laterally as well as vertically.
“And now, thanks to a joint venture between the Government of Matria and M’Lady’s Historic Preservation Society, we are pleased to welcome you to the first of those cities designed to lessen our impact on our world. A true gem, hidden between the waves. We are pleased to welcome you…to Nashawa!”
Jall had seen other cities on other worlds, but he had to admit it was an impressive introduction. As the voice finished, the lift cleared an outcropping of rock and the city abruptly came into view. It was eerily similar to Haven’s domed city, with a cluster of huge towers dead center and smaller clusters of towers arranged around it in a circle. As promised there was no dome, with the brightly lit windows shining directly into the depths of the ocean. Searchlights waved from several points around the city, and Jall was pretty sure there was an honest-to-god WHALE casually drifting alongside the outer city buildings. The elevator…or submarine or whatever it was, was bringing them towards a brightly lit building at the very edge of the city.
“We hope your enjoy your stay in Nashawa. Remember to visit the newly-opened M’Lady’s Emporium, conveniently located near the disembarkation room, for all your shopping and comfort needs! And of course, M’Lady’s Historic Tours will ensure you see every important sight there is to see!”
“And just like that, the magic is ruined,” Jall sighed, “Yay, commercialism!”
They emerged into a large chamber with a domed, transparent ceiling. A wet sound from Allona’s diaper convinced Yanick and T’Parief that they needed to find their hotel posthaste, and Wowryk and Darik didn’t want to be late for their first spa treatment.
Leaving Jall standing all by himself in the middle of the sparsely crowded chamber.
“I guess I’ll just…explore?” he asked nobody in particular.
Jall’s explorations got him as far as a bar tucked into one side of the Nashawa Transit Terminal. It was dimly lit and sported floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out into the ocean depths beyond the city. There wasn’t actually much to see, just gently undulating ocean floor dimly lit by the city lights. The whale he’d seen earlier had drifted slowly by as he drank his second drink, and the huge mammal (Fish? This was an alien planet after all…) was slowly gliding past the guidance tracks for the elevators that ran non-stop between the building and the Starport on the ocean surface.
“Another, sir?” the sturdily built, female bartender asked.
“I’ll have one of those blue things,” he said, pointing at a bottle on display.
The bartender glanced at something.
“You can’t,” she said.
“Why not? I’m pretty sure I’ve had it before!” Jall asked.
With a look of annoyance, the bartender pulled a padd out from under the bar and spun it so he could see.
“It’s for aliens who have copper-based blood. If you drink it, you’ll be lucky if you only get diarrhoea. More likely you’ll have permanent liver damage.”
“Oh.” Jall said quietly, eyes wide.
“Yeah, since they’ve started opening up the planet to alien tourism, they’ve made all of us study that sort of thing,” the bartender shrugged, “The things you learn! By the way, if you really DID drink this stuff before, you should get yourself checked. How about another…” she paused, glancing at his tab, “Chocolate martini? What kind of prissy man-drink is…uh…one chocolate martini, coming up. On the house.”
She turned and started pulling bottles off the shelf. All replicated, most likely. Getting real Terran alcohol this far out was almost impossible. But another thing that humans and Matrians had in common was an appreciation for the art of mixology. But Jall wasn’t paying much attention to the way she artfully tossed the bottles around as she began to prepare the drink.
“You see that?” Jall said to the whale now drifting back across the big windows, “No matter how far you go, you end up right back where you started. In an historic underwater city, drinking overpriced booze and talking to a whale.”
Why was he sitting here in what was basically an airport bar when there was an entire city to be discovered? He’d chosen this place, after all. He knew that there were excellent night clubs further in the city, he had a reservation at a very nice hotel within easy stumbling distance from the entertainment district, and his chances of getting lucky were good.
“Thanks,” he said as the bartender handed him his drink. He took a sip, but made no move to depart.
It didn’t help that he’d come to the city with two couples. Yanick, T’Parief, Wowryk and Darik had all run off to do their couple-type things, leaving him pretty much on his own. At least if Stafford had been around, there would have been somebody around looking even more pathetic than him.
More pathetic? He wasn’t pathetic at all! He was fabulous! He did what he wanted, when he wanted, with whom he wanted and to hell with whoever didn’t like it!
“That’s right, Suzy!” he said, raising the glass to the window, “To hell with them!”
And yet, here he was. Still talking to a whale. Whom he had apparently named Suzy.
If he hadn’t been staring out at the whale he would have missed it. Almost missed it as it was. But just beneath Suzy’s flank was a small submersible. It had no running lights, and without the whale there to draw his eye he never would have noticed it. But the sub was heading towards a nearby cluster of windowless buildings.
Maybe this was something he should check out? He contemplated his half-full drink.
Maybe it could wait a little while.
Wowryk and Darik arrived at their hotel, a rather exclusive affair in the heart of the city. They emerged from a nicely appointed underground tunnel and into a huge lobby. Narrow windows started at the floor and ran to the edge of the domed ceiling. The dome was not transparent, fortunately, and whoever had designed the place must have realized that as nice as the ocean view was, it was also moderately terrifying to have so many tons of ocean directly overhead. Instead the ceiling was inlaid was a pattern of supports, lit by dozens of chandeliers that looked like octopi or squid preparing for an attack. In retrospect, Wowryk wasn’t sure that was any better than the tons of ocean. But her real surprise was waiting for them at the front desk.
“Dr Wowryk, Dr Darik,” the receptionist gave a professional smile, “Your suite is ready, and may I say what an honour it is to have you staying with us at Nashawa Peaks! Did you know that Naksawa is very close to an Earth word that, in your own tongue, means-“
“Yes, thank you,” Wowryk found herself checking the young man for the telltale scar of a removed Qu’Eh implant. There wasn’t one, so what seemed like Qu’Eh Friendly Banter was probably just another brand of forced corporate cheer.
“Did we not request separate rooms?” Darik pointed out, looking somewhat worried.
Wowryk reviewed what the receptionist had said.
“We did,” she nodded.
“Yes,” the receptionist agreed, “Two of our more modest, though still comfortable rooms. And our manager was quite adamant that the Savior of Matria Prime deserved nothing less than our finest accommodations! At no additional charge, of course. So our Royalty Suite is at your disposal, and should you wish to travel in style you are on our VIP list for priority access to our travel pods,”
“That’s really not necessary,” Wowryk said, her eyes twitching nervously towards Darik. The shorter Matrian male didn’t seem to know what to say.
“It is,” the receptionist said gravely. She lowered her voice, “Those of us in the hospitality industry suffered at the hands of the Qu’Eh…let us not speak of it.”
Wowryk gulped. There was no way she could turn down such sincere gratitude. But although she and Darik had been…socializing…for months now, the thought of sharing a room was more than a bit unnerving.
“Thank you,” she finally said, reaching out to accept the key-card.
“Have you not fed her enough?” T’Parief asked, his voice somewhat harsher than he intended.
“I did! She drained both sides, OK?” Yanick shot back, “She’s not hungry!”
“She did not vomit, therefore she was not full,”
“She doesn’t have to puke every time she finishes eating!”
“But she ceases her cries when she does.”
“It’s not her diaper,” Yanick said, one hand checking again. Much to Allona’s annoyance, “And she doesn’t feel…bloaty…”
“Would sir and madam care to complete their check-in?” the tall, broad-shouldered woman behind the hotel reception desk asked. Behind them, a line was starting to form.
“Pari?” Yanick asked.
“I thought we selected this place because it was ‘family friendly’?” T’Parief grumbled.
“OK, that one wasn’t Allona,” Yanick said.
They slowly turned. Half the couples in line behind them were also carting infants of various ages.
“We are family friendly,” the receptionist said with a thin smile, “But we still have work to do. Shall we?”
“I hope the walls are thick,” Yanick said.
Wowryk and Darik eyed the Royal Suite. They were clearly on an upper level as their ceiling had yet another of those stupid, clear domes that reminded you just how easily you could be killed in the event something went wrong. Two open doors on opposite sides of the sitting room led to what were presumably bedrooms, while three more led to the bathroom and what would normally be considered a solarium. Except this one looked into the ocean.
Darik immediately began moving to the right side bedroom.
“I know,” he said, “We’d already discussed the rooms thing. And I agree, there is no reason for us to rush into physical things, or make things uncomfortable by leaving our feelings unsaid. I’m sure we can share the bathroom without…never mind. I have an en-suite. You likely do as well. I’m going to get changed, then maybe we can go get dinner?”
And suddenly Wowryk relaxed. This was why she was still seeing Darik after a few months of dinners, evenings out and many, many written messages during the Kallar IV mission. They just…meshed. Their talk about whether to book one room or two at the hotel had been less than two minutes long, with both of them agreeing that they weren’t comfortable getting physical yet. No strain, no pressure. No chaos.
She turned to her room and saw that yes, in addition to the king-sized bed, thick rugs and polished stone support columns there was indeed a door leading off to her own bathroom. A huge, sunken tub gurgled away, surrounded by a wrap-around window looking (surprise!) outside. Some sort of starfish-analogue had glued itself to the window. As she watched, twin eye-stalks emerged regarded her briefly, then disappeared.
Deciding she really didn’t care if an alien sea bug watched her shower, Wowryk disrobed and stepped into the large shower enclosure off to one side.
Time for a pleasant, relaxing evening!
This wasn’t one infant crying. This was not the sound of Allona expressing her displeasure with some aspect of her new existence. This was a chorus. A cacophony. This was the sound of dozens of couples with babies eating in a family-friendly restaurant.
“Why couldn’t they have sonic filters?” Yanick groaned, “Any why are there so many of them?”
“The Matrians are trying to stabilize their population,” T’Parief said, one hand cradling Allona while the other plugged one of his ears, “It is in the tactical briefing. Matria is at higher risk of inadvertent civilian casualties due to the growing number of creches and day-cares,”
“How many bottles of breast milk did we bring?” Yanick asked.
“Six bottles, plus a replicator chip for an acceptable formula,”
“Good,” Yanick grabbed his drink and swallowed it in one gulp.
“Patricia!” T’Parief straightened in shock.
“Pari, this is a holiday. A very, very noisy holiday. And I need to relax. And I’ve been so careful about drinking, but this is why we brought the bottled stuff anyway, and I still have the neutralizing hypo Noel gave me just in case, and I just…I need to relax!”
“Of course, but that drink contains an ingredient that-“
“That what?” Yanick cut him off, “Pari, we had the bio-compatibility talk with Noel. Nothing you eat or drink can kill me, the worse it could do is make me wish I was dead for a day or so. And I already WISH THAT!” she glared at a nearby couple with three screaming infants. They didn’t even notice.
“NO!” Yanick cut him off as the waiter dropped off another drink. She gulped that one too.
She looked at him for a moment, then wobbled a bit on her seat.
“Am I going to wish I was dead tomorrow?” she asked, suddenly very calm.
“No,” T’Parief said crossly, “But it is unlikely you will remember anything. I believe the last time you had Andorian cider, you blacked out.
“Oh.” Yanick looked thoughtful for a moment. “I wonder what Jall is doing?”
T’Parief gestured for the bill.
“Patricia, you may go and find out. But I do not wish to babysit three infants tonight. I will take our daughter on a walk in the city,”
“Pari,” Yanick suddenly looked contrite, “I’m sorry. I don’t want us to-“
“Jall is far better suited to handling you in this state,” T’Parief said curtly, “And you clearly have some stress you need to relieve. Now go,”
“I…OK,” Yanick gave Allona a kiss on the forehead, then started walking towards the nearest transport terminal. She looked back, but T’Parief had already paid the bill and was walking towards an empty section of enclosed underwater street, their daughter cradled in one huge arm.
Maybe…maybe she needed this. Maybe after the strain and stress of living with an infant for the past several months, it would be good for her to get out and relax a little.
But then why was she the one looking back, while T’Parief simply walked on?
“Why yes, I will have another glass of wine, thank you,” Wowryk said pleasantly. It was a bit late for a full spa treatment, but she and Darik had still gone down to the fully-featured spa attached to their hotel and started off the trip the right way. Wowryk was floating near one side of a large, brightly colour pool of mineral water. Between the buoyancy of the water and a series of carefully positioned water jets, she felt exactly as if she were reclining in a lounge chair. The small, floating drink robot next to her was careful to keep her wine within arm reach, except when it popped out of the water and flew over to the service window to retrieve another. A few feet away, Darik was enjoying a similar experience.
“A third glass Noel?” he asked.
“Why not?” she asked, “I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a pleasant evening!”
“Good point,” Darik grinned, “I’ll have another, as well,” he informed his own robot/table/waiter.
Neither of them noticed the shadow behind the service window. A curved, humanoid shadow…somewhat out of place among the otherwise robotic service kitchen. Maybe it was a hotel employee, making sure things were running smoothly. Somebody from the nicer, organic-staffed kitchens that serviced the restaurant and prepared the room service meals.
But as a small drop of liquid was added to each of their drinks, those maybes disappeared pretty quickly. The robot picked up the drink and flew back to Wowryk.
“I don’t know what this wine is,” she said, taking as large a sip as was lady-like, “But it’s really, really good,”
Half an hour later, Wowryk was stumbling back towards her room.
Darik had gone on ahead, having claimed to suddenly be really tired. Wowryk had wanted to take some extra time in the hot, steamy shower attached to the spa pool and had told him to go ahead and get comfortable in the room.
And that’s when things went blurry.
There was a series of vague impressions. Somebody was grabbing her by the shoulders. Somebody was talking to her, asking her about…things? Then a crash, a whirlwind of movement. Hallways? People? Was that…no, she couldn’t tell.
Then everything went black.
Several hours later…the next morning, in fact. Yup, this is one of those things where we jump forward, then our heros have to reconstruct what happened. And no, it’s too late to change it. So there ya go…
“You understand your mission?” Shadowy Mystery Villian #1 said to Shadowy Mystery Henchman #1.
“I do,” SMH1 replied, “Find the intoxicated Starfleet Officer, the one that stole the key,”
“Uh, not to question your abilities,” SMH1 ducked her head respectfully, “But are you sure it was the Starfleeter? Maybe the key is just in your other pair of pants?”
“I already checked them!” SMV1 waved a hand, “It’s not there. And the only clues the guards found was this!” He held out a standard- issue Starfleet rank pip. “And this,” he gestured to the table where a small pile of broken glass pieces sat, “We couldn’t get a DNA sample, but it’s covered in alcohol traces, and whoever it was was obviously drunk. Why else would they bring their drink with them to steal the key? And rescue Wowryk? Besides, we know she was travelling with others from Silverado…SOMEBODY just didn’t think they were important enough to keep tabs on!”
“Ahhh…ahem…” SMH1 cleared his throat.
“YES I KNOW THAT SOMEONE WAS ME!” SMV1 snapped, “And clearly I regret that error, so let’s move on!”
“It could be part of a brilliant deception plan,” SMH1 pointed out.
“Or he or she is an idiot,” SMV1 replied, “From what we have seen from both the Silverado crew and the new Haven crew, I am inclined to believe the latter. Now go. Find the key!”
Wowryk groaned. There was a wave of dizziness, then she reached to pull the covers around her head.
There were no covers. No sheets, for that matter. And the mattress was hard as a….wait a minute! Why was she lying on the ground?
She forced her eyes open and realized that not only was she on a hard surface, but she was apparently in an alley. Or at least some sort of enclosed access space that led between two of Nashawa’s underwater buildings. She’d been huddled behind a pair of heavy conduits…power conduits most likely, judging from the heat then emanated off them. Had she curled up here for warmth? But how had she gotten here? Where was Darik? Why did she have this nagging sense that she’d forgotten something?
And where the heck could she get a glass of water?
She reached for her comm-badge, only to find a torn, ragged patch where it had been.
Not a good sign.
OK, no problem. She was an experienced, Starfleet officer lost in a strange but friendly alien city with no means of communication.
“Etipa haku dem?” a voice asked
Wowryk turned to find a somewhat elderly Matrian man smiling at her.
“Dem hata ekki?’ he asked, again giving her a friendly smile.
“Oh no,” Wowryk groaned. Her universal translator was part of the comm-badge! And with no other Starfleet personnel around, there was no possible way for her to talk to any of the Matrians! Unless one of them had a translator…which this gentleman apparently didn’t.
Things just got way more difficult.
Jall awoke with a start. He sat up, only to fall back down as his head began to throb.
“Oh, what did I do last night?” he groaned.
“You don’t remember?” a female voice asked next to him.
Jall turned, his eyes widening in shock. Next to him was the bartender from the bar the night before. And if the underwear hanging off the edge of an end table were any indication, she was probably as naked as he was.
“Oh, geez,” Jall groaned, pulling the blanket up over his head. Bad move. She was under there, too. And she was definitely as naked as he was; her womanhood in full view. He wasn’t sure, but it might have even said hello and smiled at him.
“Excuse me,” he gulped, turning over in an effort to flee the bed, only to crash into a very solid mass.
“Gyuh’cha!” complained a tired, basso voice, “SoS jIQong Hoch nI’ law’ vIneH!”
Jall blinked, then turned back to the bartender.
“Where the hell did we find a Klingon?” he demanded.
“I have no clue,” the bartender shrugged, “Things get a bit hazy after we left the bar,”
“I have to-“ Jall was cut off as a thick, muscular arm wrapped around him and pinned him in place.
“Seriously? I’m coming off a black-out drunk with a naked woman in an underwater alien city and the mystery Klingon wants to CUDDLE? Let me go!”
“Da’ol poH cha’DIch. DaH ‘uch reH!”
“I don’t know how you two still have the energy for that,” the bartender said, getting out of bed, “Look, I’ll go order some breakfast while you…finish.”
“No, wait!” Jall tried to squirm again, but to no avail. As he did so, he noticed something on his arm.
It appeared to be some sort of…command sequence? The Matrian characters were scrawled in some sort of ink and were barely legible, but he recognized some of them as program code from his work with Matrian technology. Something to do with….
His head throbbed again. Whatever this was, it felt like it was really important. But how on earth could he concentrate with a throbbing in his head and an apparently randy Klingon who couldn’t speak Standard?
“Look, I’m flattered, but I really don’t have time for this!” Jall complained.
Yanick awoke to silence. Peaceful, blessed silence.
She opened her eyes and sat up in the bed. OK, some water would be nice. But otherwise she felt OK. T’Parief was next to her, sleeping on his stomach. His tail was stretched out between his legs and dangled limply towards the floor, which was an improvement over sticking straight up and turning the comforter into a tent. She could never stay warm when that happened.
Allona…where was Allona?
Yanick suddenly panicked. The infant had awoken them every morning for the past month with her bellows. If she was quiet today…
“Allona!” Yanick jumped out of the bed in their hotel room and bolted for the small port-a-crib they’d brought, terrified that she’d find-
Allona was fine, sleeping peacefully, what must be a Matrian pacifier tucked between her lips.
“What is it?” T’Parief barked, having come awake immediately at her shout of alarm.
“I…nothing,” Yanick said, “Go back to sleep,”
“When did you get in?” he asked.
“I’m…I’m not sure,” she said, “Maybe Jall knows,”
She moved to the nightstand to find her comm-badge but instead found a note.
FIND WOWRYK. The words were scrawled in messy, jagged Standard letters. The note was crumpled, one corner stained with something purple.
Yanick grabbed her comm-badge.
“Trish to Noel,” she said, giving it a squeeze.
“Jall to Yanick,” the badge suddenly chirped at her.
“Yanick…oh…ow,” Yanick lowered her voice, “Yanick here. San, what the hell did we do last night?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t feel good…hey, will you quit it? I can’t handle another round this morning!” Jall replied.
“Did you know there were Klingons on Matria?” Jall asked.
“Well, when I was Chris’ secretary or whatever we had a bunch of diplomatic types come in and…Jall…did you pick up a Klingon?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Jall said, “Look, I need breakfast. I need a big pile of greasy hangover food and about a gallon of coffee. There’s a place not far from you that advertises Terran food. Meet me there?”
Across the room, T’Parief made a shooing gesture at her.
“Yes but,” she looked back to the note, “have you seen Noel? She’s not answering her comm-badge,”
“She’s probably at the spa with her new man,” Jall replied, “I don’t think comm-badges go with spa robes. Just meet me at the restaurant. Jall out.”
Yanick stared at the note and tried hailing Wowryk again. Nothing.
“Do you want me gone, or something?” she asked, turning to T’Parief. He’d lifted Allona out of her crib and was rocking her gently. She was still sound asleep.
T’Parief’s red eyes turned to her. She could see that flash of confusion followed by irritation, that expression he got anytime she did something that (in his mind) a Klingon/Andorian/Gorn/Parian female wouldn’t do.
“I enjoyed the quiet time with our spawn last night,” he said, “We’ve had a lot of time together recently, in very close quarters during the Kallar mission. I think spending time with your…friends…would be good for us. Get us back into our routine.”
With that, he turned back to Allona.
Jall was sipping a cup of replicated Terran coffee when she found him at the restaurant. The restaurant was (surprise) under a glass dome that extended out from the side of one of the broad downtown towers of the city. A group of small, crab-like creatures had established a colony on one of the transparisteel windows near their table. Sipping might not have been the right word for what Jall was doing to the coffee, Yanick realized as she drew closer. Gulping might be more accurate. Guzzling would not be completely off the mark. Making out with the coffee cup would have been a colourful but accurate way to describe what was happening.
All was forgiven when Yanick saw that there was a second cup set out for her, along with a carafe of steaming, black brew.
“Oh God, yes,” Yanick groaned, plunking into the seat, grabbing the cup and taking a long swing. It was replicated, but it must have been a good pattern. She could barely tell. “I’m never doing that again,”
“Me neither,” Jall agreed.
“I could really use one of the hypos Noel keeps packed in her med- kit,” Yanick said. She pulled out the note and waved it in Jall’s face, “Probably why I left myself a note to find her.”
“Clever,” Jall nodded. The auto-waiter, a small service robot, rolled up and took their orders. A few minutes later it rolled back with two mostly replicated breakfasts.
“I’m so glad they got decent replicator patterns when they started getting ready for Federation visitors,” Jall said, diving into a pile of replicated eggs, replicated bacon and some sort of Matrian fruit cup, “I hate it when an entire planet takes their replicator pattern from some cheap dive.”
“Didn’t we help the Matrians with that stuff?” Yanick asked, “I seem to remember you debating whether Canadian or American bacon was better for a hangover?”
“Then yay for us,” Jall said, teasing a strip of bacon out from under his eggs.
“Lieutenant Yanick! Lt Commander Jall! Thank the-“
Dr. Darik rushed into the restaurant, spotted the two of them and had barely taken two steps their way when the auto-waiter rolled into his path. He stumbled forward-
-and two small darts appeared in the middle of his back. He caught his balance, stared blankly at Jall and Yanick for a moment, then collapsed to the deck.
“Dr Sem!” Yanick cried, dropping down to check the downed Matrian just as another dart zipped over her head and bounced off the window with a sharp ‘PLINK’! Jall had grabbed his plate, dumping the remains of his breakfast on his lap as he held it up like a tiny shield. One dart bounced off the plate, a second missed him and bounced off the window.
“Did you bring a phaser?” Jall snapped. Well, sort of snapped. It was a tired, ‘why are we doing this so early in the morning’ sort of snap.
“No! I came for BREAKFAST not a fight!” Yanick yelled. She’d reached Darik and determined that he was alive but unconscious. “Oh…Oh…bad Trish. No more yelling.”
“So we’re back to this then,” Jall sighed. He saw a flash of movement, grabbed the coffee carafe and threw it as hard as he could. The was a loud crash as the glass shattered, then shouts of pain as scalding hot coffee splattered their assailant.
With a loud beeping, three more auto-waiters popped out of nowhere and converged on the sound and resulting mess. Yanick caught a glimpse of a Matrian female trying to yank off a dark tunic soaked with coffee just before stumbling on a bot as it attempted to clean up the mess. Then Jall was pushing her towards the door and grabbing Darik in a fireman carry. Two more darts flew their way, one missing and the other landing in Darik’s left buttock instead of Jall’s back.
“You did you piss off last night!!??” Yanick demanded.
“F**ked if I know!” Jall shot back. He punched the door panel on the way out, a sizzle of sparks hopefully meaning they’d have enough time to escape, “Come on , we need to find Wowryk!”
Wowryk walked unsteadily along the corridor leading to her hotel. She actually wasn’t all that far, luckily, and the Nashawa transit system seemed to understand the hotel name without the need for translation. The staff all smiled pleasantly, and a few said the Matrian word for ‘hello’ as she walked in. She just smiled, nodded, and made her way towards the lift.
As she entered, a bell-boy brushed against her and she felt a small scrap of paper pressed into her palm. She turned, but the small figure was already rushing down the lobby.
Worried now, Wowryk waited for the doors to close before looking at the parchment.
It looked like somebody had tried to write in Standard with an honest-to God pencil. The letters were malformed, barely legible. And from the grammar, she suspected the writer was either trying to write without the aid of translator software, or was an idiot.
“System computational listened into,” Wowryk read aloud, squinting at the messed up letters, “Be cautioned of MALADY. Away from stay room yours.”
The elevator doors opened and Wowry automatically stepped out and turned towards her suite when the content of the note bounced through the overtired and somewhat tangled bumps of her brain to scramble into their proper order and meaning.
The computer system has been tapped.
Beware of MALADY.
Stay away from your room.
Wowryk paused. The note was clearly a warning. Somebody thought that the computer system had been bugged and that someone, or some evil organization from the sounds of it, was after her. Odds were good this was some sort of stupid hoax. Or one of Jall’s pranks. Or maybe some over-eager Matrian celebrity stalker.
But then why the hell was she coming off a blank-out night of sleeping in an alley after three glasses of relatively weak wine?
Wowryk suddenly had a very strong urge to aim a medical tricorder at herself. Of course, the only tricorder she had was in her med-kit, which was in her room. Where she had been told not to go.
She could try to find Yanick, T’Parief or Jall, but without a comm-badge that would be hard. She could find a public comm station and try to call for help, but she couldn’t read or operate the systems in Matrian. Haven had been setup to work with multiple races and languages, but she hadn’t seen that in Nashawa yet.
The elevator chimed. Wowryk dove into a small side corridor, holding back a wince as her head throbbed and her world spun. She managed to find a small space behind a wall support just as two Matrian women in form-fitting, nondescript outfits walked past. They said nothing, merely walked to Wowryk’s room and attached a device to the door panel. After a moment, the doors hissed open.
One of the women went inside, the other leaned against the wall near the door, trying to look casual. She had a full view of the elevator.
Wowryk was trapped.
She took a quick inventory. She had no tricorder, no comm-badge, no weapon. She had her shoes, her civilian cloths and a rather stylish hairpin that she’d found in a shop on Waystation. The pin was an Andorian piece.
Seized by inspiration, Wowryk pulled the pin out of her hair and examined it more closely. Those Andorians couldn’t build a table without hiding some kind of weapon or assassination device in it, surely a hairpin would have a poison blade, or a hidden garrotte wire or something!
After several moments of examination, Wowryk had to conclude that not only was it just a hairpin, but it wasn’t even really Andorian. A tiny ‘Made on Epsilon Indi II’ stamp identified it as a cheap knock-off.
Wowryk stayed in her hiding place for several minutes, wondering what the heck a pair of Matrians would want from her room. Were they fans? Or stalkers?
She peered carefully around the corner, The Matrian standing guard had a hand resting casually on a small weapon strapped to her hip. Through the open door, Wowryk could hear the sound of the other guard going through drawers, searching for something.
Definitely not fans.
“Almost there,” Yanick said, waiting as the elevator climbed to the top floor of Nashawa Peaks.
“Good, because this guy is heavy and I’m still hung over,” Jall said, grunting as he adjusted Darik’s weight across his shoulders again. The doors hissed open and Yanick stepped out, only to jump back as she saw a Matrian woman down the hall pulling a weapon out of a holster! Two more of those cursed darts hissed by, embedding themselves in the far wall. The woman rushed towards them, firing again. Yanick was about to jam her finger down on the ‘door close’ button when a dark-haired blur rushed at the woman from behind, knocking her to the floor. There was a blur as Wowryk aimed a quick blow at the base of the Matrian’s skull, knocking her out.
“Noel!” Yanick exclaimed, “How did you…”
“Had to do the same thing to Crewman Shwaluk when he accidentally sat on a hypospray full of adrenalin,” Wowryk said. She groaned, putting one hand to her temples, “And it feels like somebody did it to me…oh no!”
She turned and Yanick followed her gaze to see a second Matrian pulling out another one of those dart guns. She darted down and grabbed the gun from the floor, squeezing off two darts just the Matrian fired one of her own.
Somehow, Yanick managed to hit her. She pulled the dart from her chest, looked at it with an annoyed expression, then fell to the floor. Behind Yanick Jall collapsed in a heap, Darik falling on top of him. With a dart sticking out of his thigh.
“So hi, Trish,” Wowryk sighed, “How was YOUR night?”
They regrouped at Yanick’s hotel room. If anything, the crying of the various infants throughout the hotel would jam any surveillance equipment the bad guys might be using to try to find them. Jall had the wall-screen playing one of the local news broadcasts while T’Parief and Yanick fussed over their daughter.
“Test. Test.” Wowryk was speaking into a spare comm-badge that Jall had loaned her. Once she found her medical kit, it had been a simple matter to counter-act the sleeping agent the darts had used. Counter-acting their hangovers, on the other hand, was proving more difficult.
“T’Parief, could you say something in…” Wowryk trailed off, “You know, I actually never asked what language you speak,”
“I grew up on a Federation colony,” T’Parief rumbled, “I speak Standard,”
“Yeah. Like a thrice-slayed mutant emu,” Jall added.
T’Parief growled at him, while Wowryk look at him with annoyance.
“And why would you say such a thing?” she demanded.
“Because if you understood it, your translator is working,” Jall shrugged, “I can speak Trill,”
“Hey, and did you know that in both Standard AND Trill, the slang phrase for orgasm has the exact same sexual meaning?” Jall went on, “I mean, I was doing my Standard language classes at the Academy. And I hooked up with this human. And he was…you know…getting ready to finish, so he started shouting it. And all I could think was ‘Gee…it means the same thing in both languages. That’s interesting!”
Yanick, Wowryk and T’Parief all stared at him.
“Then,” Jall gave a tired shrug, “I realized that if I was thinking about linguistics, it was probably the most boring sex of my life,”
“So what do we know?” T’Parief demanded, as Wowryk went back to mixing up another hangover remedy, “You were attacked. Jall, I do not care. But Wowryk and Patricia are another matter.”
“I have a note to find Wowryk,” Yanick said, pulling it out, “I’m pretty sure it’s my handwriting. But I don’t remember writing it. And I found her. And so what?”
“I had a missing comm-badge,” Worwyk added, injecting the hypo into herself and shaking her head in frustration when it failed to have an effect, “And a random warning that my room was being watched and the city computer monitored. By something or someone called MALADY.”
“And I woke up with a random Klingon,” Jall said, “Which, yes, isn’t all that strange for me. But I also had this,” he held out his arm to show the Matrian character sequence drawn on his arm with shaky marker. Yanick frowned, then held her note up next to his arm.
“I think I wrote that,” she said, frowning. Wowryk glanced over, then shot herself up with another injection.
“Why would you be writing Matrian command sequences on me?” Jall asked.
“Is that what that is?”
“I think we were drugged,” Wowryk broke in.
“Huh?” Jall rolled his eyes, “Uh, yeah. Hello? Sleeping darts?”
“I mean before that,” Wowryk said peevishly, “I’ve tried three different treatments for your standard alcohol-induced hangover. None of them have worked. But when I start modifying the formula to account for certain illegal substances, it starts to take effect. And our bloodwork definitely shows signs of other chemicals having been present. I can’t tell more without a sickbay or bio-lab.”
“Drugged,” Jall frowned thoughtfully. “A note to find you. A command sequence. A warning.”
“I wrote at least two of those,” Yanick said, “So…I did things. But I sure don’t remember them,”
“Andorian cider,” T’Parief muttered to himself, “Does not mix with humans,”
“Sweetie,” Yanick said, one hand massaging her temple, “If you’re not going to help…”
“Oh, he’s going to help,” Jall said thoughtfully, “I know exactly what we need him to do.”
“A violent rampage, in which all those who would dare lay a hand on my mate or on Dr. Wowryk are painfully and brutally dispatched?’ T’Parief perked up, shifting Allona to another shoulder, “This vacation has just become more interesting!”
“Oh my,” Wowryk said, looking at Allona as if just noticing the infant, “She’s been so quiet! I’d forgotten she was here!”
“What’s this?” Jall asked, leaning over to pluck out the pacifier.
“No!” T’Parief exclaimed, but it was too late.
“Put it back!” Yanick slapped at his arm. He frantically (but carefully) replaced the pacifier. Allona gradually quieted, gurgled, then fell asleep again.
T’Parief growled at him again.
“Right,” Jall rubbed one ear, “My mistake. But no, I’m not thinking slaughter. This is a Federation member world, after all. No, I want you to take Allona and Dr. Darik back to the runabout and get back into orbit. Then I want you to contact Colonel Abela and get her to alert planetary security,”
“We could just call them ourselves,” Yanick suggested.
“Right. Considering that we’re trapped in an underwater city and we’ve been publicly attacked and yet there’s no mention on the news,” Jall gestured at the screen he was watching, “Not a peep. So either the city security force is behind this, which I doubt, or whomever IS behind it has some sort of pull with local authorities. Whether it’s blackmail, bribery or whatever, I don’t think we can trust them,”
“I. Am. Not. Leaving. My. Mate.” T’Parief said, very slowly and very firmly.
“Look, Muscles, can we just skip this argument?” Jall’s hangover was showing again, “I’ll start by pointing out that whatever happened last night, Wowryk, Yanick and I were clearly involved. I can’t afford to let her go, she might know something important! And we all know you’ve got the oomph to get the innocent civilians - your daughter and a Matrian doctor, I might add - to safety. And clearly they want us alive since they were trying to sedate us instead of vaporizing us!”
T’Parief growled again.
“Then you’ll talk about duty,” Jal went on, “Then I’ll talk about duty to protect the innocent. And then it will all come down to me ordering you to go because hey, I beat you in that stupid contest and I’m the First Officer. So can we skip that? Because I really, really don’t feel good and I really, really don’t want to argue anymore!”
Dr. Darik opened his mouth.
“Don’t!” Jall cut him off, “You’re a civilian. And I don’t think you’re involved in this, other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time!”
“Sem, it’s OK,” Wowryk laid a hand on his arm. He didn’t look convinced.
In the meantime, T’Parief gave Yanick a hard look then disappeared into the other room. The sound of baby things being packed away could faintly be heard.
“I wish you hadn’t done that,” Yanick sighed, “It’s going to be impossible to live with him for a month,”
“Tell me I’m wrong,” Jall spread his hands, looking at her expectantly.
T’Parief stormed out of the bedroom. He gave Yanick one last look, then reached down and kissed her with surprising gentleness.
“Destroy them,” he murmured. Then he hefted Allona, gave Dr. Darik a pointed look, then turned to leave.
“Don’t even think of it,” Jall said pointed a finger at Darik, then pointed at the door.
“Wait,” Wowryk found herself moving towards Darik. Without even fully meaning to, she was reaching with one hand towards his face, bringing their lips closer…closer…
They kissed. Briefly, but deeply.
“Now go,” Wowryk said as Yanick and Jall looked on in amazement.
Stumbling slighty, he left.
“Wow,” Jall sad.
“Shut up.” Wowrk said firmly.
“Wow,” Yanick agreed.
“You shut up, too!”
“A three second kiss! After months of dating! What a lucky man he is!”
Wowryk crossed her arms and chose to ignore him. “So it’s the three of us against who-knows-how-many of them.”
“Do you really think they want us alive?” Yanick asked.
“No, I just said that to make T’Parief happy,” Jall shrugged, “They probably know that bullets or phasers set to kill would poke a hole in the city and drown everybody,”
“Oooooooo!” Yanick squeezed her fists in frustration.
Jall started tapping at the remote padd connected to the wall panel.
“I didn’t want to do this while he was around,” Jall said, presumably meaning T’Parief, “But I’ve got a hunch,”
“You said there was nothing on the news.” Wowryk frowned.
“No,” Jall agreed, “But we left ourselves clues. A note. A code. I’m pretty sure we left ourselves a more detailed message, we just had to remind ourselves there was something to look for,”
“How would we know we weren’t going to remember?”
“Sweetie, you know what Andoria cider does to you,” Jall said, “And I’m an experienced drunk…I know when I’m not likely to remember,”
“And me? Wowryk asked.
“You never drink, you’d be on the way to blacksville after your third one,” Jall rolled his eyes, “Even if you hadn’t been doped up by the bad-guys at some point.”
“Well, Mr. Smarty-Pants, I don’t suppose you’ve forgotten that the computer systems are supposedly being monitored?” Wowryk asked, “So whatever message you left-“
“I’m betting we knew that,” Jall said, “And I’m betting that I did something clever. Something like…”
The screen crackled to life. There was a flash of static, then they were looking at…themselves. They were in an office of some kind, a window looking out into the water behind them. There was a crash in the background, the sound of something hitting a solid door.
“Something like hiding the message as surveillance feed for a really boring-looking public library!” Jall said triumphantly.
“We looked like shit,” Yanick said flatly.
“Think we still do,” Jall agreed, running a hand through his hair.
The three of them did not look well. They didn’t have the bags under the eyes or the exhausted cast to their features that they were currently sporting, but Yanick’s hair and casual jumpsuit was covered with some sort of dust, with pieces of debris stuck here and here. Wowryk was still wearing her spa robe, but the belt was missing. She was keeping it closed with one arm, but it was slipping. Even as they watched, one side slipped dangerously close to exposing a breast before Wowryk pulled it tight again. She was wavering, and had a vacant, drugged expression on her face.
Jall looked the most normal of the three. He was dressed in tight, skimpy clubbing attire. His hair was a mess, but it may have been his usual ‘going out’ doo as opposed to whatever it was that had gotten Yanick all mussed up. Something had been spilled all over one sleeve, but as he lifted his arm to give a friendly gesture towards the camera they could see a martini-style glass held in that hand, the drink sloshing over the rim to spill on his arm as he gestured.
“Hey handsome,” Jall slurred towards the camera, “By which I mean…me. Not Wowryk. Or Yanick.”
“Tell us..about the-“
“Noel, be nice. Say hi first!” Yanick inturrupted.
“Why?” It’s just…it’s just…” Wowryk frowned, appearing to lose her train of thought. “What?” she finally said, very slowly.
“Say hello, Noel,” Jall giggled.
“Hello…Noel…” Wowryk sighed.
“Hi Trish!” Yanick giggled as she waved, “And Noel. And San! And…oh! What if somebody else finds this? Should we say hit to them?”
“I thought you were supposed tabe ta sober one?” Jall slurred, “Andoran cider..not drunk…just…blackout?”
“Yeah, but you kept buying me martinis!” Yanick pushed him. Jall wavered, reaching out to Wowryk to steady himself. She fell right over, luckily falling out of camera range before her robe opened.
“That was the big, pretty Klingon,” Jall objected as he stabilized.
“He was buying those for you!”
“…might have to perform later…”
“Maybe we should fast-forward this a bit,” the present-day Jall swallowed, “We don’t need to hear about-“
“Not MY problem if you’re worried about whiskey-dick!” video-recording-Yanick said shrilly.
Jall blushed and hit the fast-forward button for a few seconds, then let the video resume.
“-they’re probably still waiting at the bar,” Jall was saying, “I snuck out when Wowryk called you! But they took…they hook ter…they took her comm-badge! Before I could find her!”
“Wait we’re supposed to be telling future us about all that stuff,” Yanick said.
“Oh,” Jall turned back to the camera, “Rights. So they…the man, anyway, he tried to kidnap Wowryk to…” he trailed off, “How did we find Wowryk anyway?”
“I called you, you snuck out of the club, and we…we…” Yanick trailed off.
“No, Wowryk called ME, then I called YOU. Then we…oh…that bartender said I could crash on her couch if I had to.”
“Maybe she wants to…y’know.”
“No, she knows I’d rather go home with the Klingon.”
“Why is there a Klingon on Matria?”
“Who cares? We’re gonna-“
Wowryk hit the fast-forward this time.
“I wish we’d get to the point,” she said crossly. She let the video resume.
“…anyway, we found Wowryk,” video-Jall said, another dull thud sounding. Was somebody trying to break into the room they were using? “The guy had her. Wasn’t even hard to find, they took her comm-badge but had it in the same building.”
“So that’s one mystery solved,” present-Wowryk said.
“Tell her about the guy,” Yanick pushed, “And the lady,”
“What lady?” video-Wowryk’s voice spoke up, but she was still presumably on the flood.
“The lady!” Yanick said, “The lady…the guy…”
“Right,” Jall gulped another sip of his drink. There was another thud against the door. “Hold on!” Jall snapped, “We’ll deal with…deal with…just hold on!” He turned back to the camera, “Ok, so, the guy…he had this key. And this code. But it wasn’t…he needed Wowryk. But he needed her to not know.”
The door crashed again.
“Now we have the key. And the code,” Yanick grabbed Jall’s non-drinking arm and held it up, revealing the poorly written Matrian symbols, “And the man really, really wants the key,”
“And me,” Wowryk’s voice wafted from the floor, “Because…the lady…wha?”
“And we’re just…we’re gonna run,” Jall said, “They’re watching the elevators out of the city. So we’re gonna scatter. And lay low.”
“And escape!” Yanick said, “I have a baby to think of, for crying out loud!”
“That baby is safer than any of us,” Wowryk’s voice said slowly, “Her daddy is a demolition squad,”
“Oh! Oh!” Jall straightened up, sloshing more of his drink, “I have an idea!”
The door behind them crashed in.
“OK, FINE!” Jall yelled, reaching down for what looked almost like a baseball bat, “THAT’S IT! I’M PUTTING DOWN MY PURSE AND PICKING UP A BIG CAN OF WHOOP-ASS!”
“Is that seriously the best you can come up with?” Yanick groaned.
“Oh, evidence too,” Wowryk groaned, “Kill the evidence so they don’t find the…the…message thingy.”
And with that, Jall turned the bat to the camera, prepared to swing, then abruptly the video cut out. The sound went on for a few moments, mostly just impact sounds and grunts of pain. Then:
“SCATTER!” Jall’s voice called, “AND THE KEY! YANICK! THE-“
The sound cut out.
“Well,” Wowryk said after a moment, “That wasn’t very helpful.”
Jall thought for a moment.
“We know somebody abducted you,” he said, after a moment, “You called one of us for help,”
“Probably me,” Yanick piped up.
“I doubt it, sweetie,” Jall patted her head, “Anyway, we got together and found you. And we stole a key and a code from whomever had taken you. We fought with somebody, then we escaped and decided to split up. I must have gone back to the club and gone home with…well, whatever. Yanick went to her big scary boy-toy. Wowryk didn’t even make it to her rooms, passing out in an alley instead. Which was a good move, because SHE was the one they were actually after, and nobody was going to find her there. Anyway, we have the code,” he held up his arm, “Does anybody have a key?”
They checked their pockets. Yanick started fishing around in the suitcase still sitting in her room.
“Nothing,” She said.
“It might still be in that spa robe,” Wowryk suggested, “I apparently changed at some point,”
“Why didn’t we just get T’Parief to get us out of the city?” Yanick asked.
“Probably because we were drunk,” Jall replied, “And drunk people are stupid,”
“Why didn’t we go to the police?” Wowryk wondered.
“Oh, I know this one,” Yanick said, “Because we were drunk!”
“I don’t know,” he said, “but let’s stick with that, just in case. Really, I think we just need to figure out how to get out of here without using the elevators!”
“Yanick to T’Parief,” Yanick squeezed her comm-badge.
“Jall to runabout Asessippi,” Jall tried. Nothing again.
“Yanick to Jall,”
Jall’s comm-badge chirped immediately.
“Could be the seawater,” Jall said. He thought for a few more minutes.
“Ok,” he said, “We need to get a tap into the city communications system and put a call out for help,”
“T’Parief should be doing that,” Yanick reminded him.
“You want to wait here?” Jall asked, “Actually, we need to leave. Now.”
“Ohhh…” Wowryk said, “Because this hotel room is under Trish’s name. And they weren’t after you before.”
“But they probably are now,” Jall said, “So we find a nice, tall tower. Something closer to the surface. Try to get a signal out while we try to get tapped into the city systems. Worst case scenario, we keep hiding until T’Parief sends someone to help us.”
They bolted for the door.
They made it as far as the lobby. They were just stepping out of the elevator when Jall spotted two no-nonsense women wearing the same sort of discreet but tactical clothing the women at Wowryk’s hotel had worn. He pulled them both into the elevator and hit the button for the lower level, electing a squawk of protest from the couple that had been waiting for the car, holding two infants each.
“Should have known to stick to the less public areas anyway,” Jall said. They stepped out and started moving down the hall to what was hopefully an exit. Apparently they hadn’t made it back into the elevator quickly enough, as the two Matrian commandos soon appeared at the door to the stairwell. “Go! Go!” he hissed.
The two women darted out the door, finding themselves in a service corridor running towards the next building. Jall followed them, looking frantically for something he could use to block the door. Yanick grabbed him and dragged him down towards the next turn.
The service corridors were a maze. They ran at top speed, taking turns mostly at random. After several minutes, they slowed.
“I think we lost them,” Jall said.
“How?” Wowryk asked, “If MALADY, or whatever, is tapped into the computer system, they must be tracking us on the sensors!”
“This is a civilian city, not a starship,” Jall pointed out, “They might get into the communications logs, or hotel bookings. But I doubt the place is setup for personnel tracking the way a ship is. Privacy laws probably apply.” He found a stairway leading up to whatever building they happened to be under. They went up the steps, opened the door-
And found themselves facing about a dozen Matrian commando women.
“But they might be able to track the human and Trill life-signs,” Jall gulped. The women raised their dart guns.
“Doc,” Jalls said quietly, “You still have that antidote?”
“Yes,” Wowryk said, “But-“
“Then get ready to go Kung-Fu Wowryk on them!”
Wowryk was still digesting what Jall had said when he abruptly charged the six Matrians, screaming at the top of his lungs. They may have been dressed like cold-blooded killers, but instead of immediately putting him down, half of them actually stepped back in surprise. The other three paused for a moment, then started tracking the yelling Starfleet officer with their guns.
By the time Wowryk realised what he’d wanted him to do, Jall had actually managed to wrestle the dart gun away from the smallest of the attackers…right before two more of them loaded him up with tranquilizers darts.
“Oh, right!” Wowryk said. She charged the nearest woman and proceeded to knock her out. She turned to the next one, only to find all the women were unconscious on the floor.
“I don’t know why he was warning YOU to attack,” Yanick said, brushing off her hands and putting them on her hips, “I’M the one that grew up on a farm with two brothers. Plus…you know. T’Parief isn’t exactly easy to keep under control.”
“How would you…no,” Wowryk shook her head, “I don’t want to know.” She readied another shot of the antidote and injected it into Jall, being sure to wait until after he was conscious to start pulling out the darts.
“OWWWW!” Jall objected loudly but groggily, “What the hell!?”
“If you’d let me finish what I was saying,” Wowryk said, “Yes, I have more of the antidote. But it’s not good for you to keep doing this,”
“As opposed to being captured?” Jall asked, “Wow…I suddenly have to use the little boys room,”
“Your kidneys are working overtime to get the neutralized toxins out of your body,” Wowryk said, “You’re going to be dehydrated!”
“Which with a hangover…crap.”
“Maybe we should find who who these people are?” Yanick asked, nudging one of the unconscious Matrians with her toe.
Jall frisked one of them, coming up with only a dart gun and a key-card.
“Well, now we have dart guns too,” he said, “But we don’t know anything new. That’s weird…usually when the bad guys work for an outfit that gives itself a name like MALADY, they stamp it on every piece of clothing and kit they have,”
Wowryk grabbed another dart gun, then rose to her feet.
“Let’s get up to one of the towers and see if we can get a hold of someone who can beam us out. I’m sick of this place!”
They quickly made their way to the observation deck of Nashawa City Hall. Like Haven, City Hall was the tall spire in the center of the city. Unlike Haven, the city administration had actually named it City Hall, not something stupid like the Nashawa Command Tower. Really, it was a city. And not a flying city either. Just a city that sat where it was and…was. Once more they were ambushed, but as they trio neared the more densely populated area, the attacks stopped. Jall was beginning to suspect that while whomever was behind Wowryk’s earlier abduction may have friends with the local authorities, they were still trying to keep a low profile.
The observation deck was at the very peak of the spire, a large room with broad windows and (surprise!) a domed, transparent ceiling. It was connected to the broader City Hall tower itself by a slim, enclosed spiral staircase. A rotation mechanism kept the entire room slowly turning.
“I wonder why they didn’t put a restaurant up here?” Yanick wondered.
“Probably because the view sucks,” Jall said. Indeed, while they could see the lit windows of the city, there wasn’t anything else to see. High above there was murky light filtering down from the surface, but nothing was really visible.
“Try to reach the runabout,” Wowryk said.
“Jall to Asessippi,” Jall tapped at his badge.
“Asess….re…sig…ak…” the badge crackled.
“Jall to…um…Matrian Communications Network Operator?”
There was a chime.
“You’ve reached Matrian Communications, this is operator 2033 speaking, how may I direct your call?” a crisp, male voice came back immediately.
“Now why didn’t we try that an hour ago!” Yanick smacked him.
“Ow! Because now we’re calling out through the surface! We’re not going through the Nashawa comms network!”
“Actually, sir, you are. How may I direct your call?” the operator said, sounding bored.
“Oh shit!”Jall snapped, “OK, look, we’re in Nashawa, these people kidnapped my friend, we got her back, and now they’re chasing us all over the city! We need a beam-out!”
“I can direct your call to the Nashawa Civil Police Service,” the operator began.
“No! Look, whoever is after us has a mole or is bribing somebody! Otherwise the kidnapping of Dr Wowryk would have been all over the news!”
“Did you actually report her kidnapping?”
“Sir,” now the operator was sounding irritated, “I assure you our police force is-“
“Hold it right there!” a stern voice barked.
“Uh-oh,” Wowryk said.
This time they were facing a good dozen Matrians…and several of them were in fact wearing Nashawa Civil Police Services uniforms. Jall was about to charge, but they all had their dart guns trained on the three officers. He reconsidered, then slowly raised his hands.
“Sergeant?” one said, turning to a uniformed cop holding a piece of equipment. He turned the thing on, and the comm signal abruptly dissolved into static.
“Uh-oh,” Wowryk muttered.
“Don’t worry,” Jall muttered back, “It’s almost been long enough,”
“Clear,” one of the police reported.
“Clear, sir,” one of the Matrians in the plain, black gear called down the stairway.
They moved to the side, making way as a figure wearing a hooded robe emerged.
“Oh, seriously!?” Jall groaned.
“Lt Commander Jall,” Shadowy Mystery Villian #1 said, crossing his arms, “Clearly I don’t want you to know who I am. And while it’s still very possible I’m going to kill you all, I’d rather keep my options open. Now, simply give me the key, and this will all be over.”
“And the key is all you want?” Wowryk demanded, hands on hips.
“Well, no. I need your expertise in…well…Matrian technology.” SMV1 admitted, “So you have to come with me. At least for a while. I promise to eventually let you go!”
“Suppose you’re going to need to flay the skin off my arm to get this back too, huh?” Jall held up his arm, revealing the code.
“Don’t be stupid, I have that thing copied down in three different safe places! All I need to be sure you don’t have it is some soap and water!”
Jall looked back at him.
“You are the LAMEST bad-guy ever!” he said flatly.
“Who said I was bad?” SMV1 asked.
“Kidnapping,” Jall started.
“I didn’t hurt her!”
“Shooting us,” Yanick pointed out.
“With tranquilizers!” SMV1 objected.
“Chasing us all over the city!” Wowryk said.
“To a nice, secluded spot where we can conduct our business without harming innocent…OK, look. I’m not a bad-guy! I just need to accomplish my goals, and I can’t do that without the key you stole! Now give it here!”
“Look, we don’t have the key,” Wowryk said, “I don’t know-“
“Oh!” Jall started, then smiled, “So much for the chat. You should get ready to die now,”
Sure enough, right on the tail of the roar, T’Parief came charging up the steps, arms swinging. He charged at the police officers first, knocking two of them to the deck while the others shot at him with their dart guns. Darts bounced off his hide, or off the goggles he wore over his eyes.
“MEEP!” SMV1 squealed, bolting down the stairs and out of sight.
In seconds, there was nothing but unconscious bad-guys scattered about.
“You came back!” Yanick grinned, running over and giving T’Parief a big hug.
“You seriously expected that I would leave my mate, the mother of my spawn, behind while I ran away like a pathetic human…I mean…” T’Parief growled.
“Nope,” Jall said cheerfully, “I knew you’d be back once Allona and the doc were safe. Uh, where are they, by the way?”
“The runabout is in orbit of the planet,” T’Parief replied.
“Did they give you any trouble on the way out?” Wowryk asked.
“No,” T’Parief replied, “There were several darkly-dressed Matrians in the transit center. I was observerd, as was Dr. Darik. But we evidently were not of interest.”
“He doesn’t really match any of our descriptions anyway.” Jall shrugged.
“But any competent villain would think to…oh forget it!” Wowryk shook her head, “Can we go now?”
“Of course,” T’Parief nodded, “Though if you plan to go back through the city, consider that they will now be on the lookout for me as well. And are probably looking for weapons that will be more effective.”
“You have a plan though?” Jall asked.
“And it is much better than your plan of ‘wait for the strong warrior to return’,” T’Parief assured him.
Jall crossed his arms and frowned.
“OK, genius, how do we get out? The seawater is being a bitch with transporters and comms, the cops are on the take, and WHOAH!”
T’Parief had pulled two phasers out of his bag and had set them on overload.
“My plan,” he said, “Was to find the highest point in the city, likely a tower or spire. Then escape,”
“Right, we already found it! But why are you going to KILL US ALL!!!???”
T’Parief dropped the two phasers down the stairs then sealed the heavy door. Like the rest of the city, it was designed to hold against flooding in adjoining sections.
The whine of the overloading weapons, though muted, continued to climb, until-
There was a flood of bubbles around the windows and the entire room pitched wildly. There was a shriek of tearing metal, then a sudden sense of upward motion. The observation room had been blown clear of the tower, the connecting structure severed, and was now rising to the surface!
“Is that not brilliant?” T’Parief asked smugly, looking down the lower windows as the lit city of Nashawa disappeared into the depths.
“You are an IDIOT!” Jall snapped, “What if we hadn’t been blown completely clear? What if this room had been breached? What if you’d found us hiding in a basement?”
“We would have dealt with it,” T’Parief shrugged, pulling Yanick close to his side, “We always do,”
“But why can’t we just deal with things like normal people,” Wowryk wondered.
First Officer’s Log: Stardate, Who cares?
“Well, it’s official. Things are getting back to normal. By which I mean we’ve been banned from Nashawa. They didn’t press any charges, they know that having their own cops as part of the problem wouldn’t look good. But we are no longer welcome. And the City Hall Observation Deck is closed, indefinitely.”
“But we still don’t know who MALADY is, where this key is or what the hell all of that was about! Matrian Planetary Security says they’re going to ‘look into it’. Right. Whatever.”
“I’m sick of this planet!”
Shadowy Mystery Villian pulled off his hood, revealing fairly nondescript features.
“Mr. Mann? Your three o’clock is here,” called Mystery Henchman # 1…actually just his secretary.
“Yes, please tell her I’ll be there shortly,” Mr. Mann, CEO of M’Lady’s Incorporated sighed as he fell back into the comfortable seat in the company’s Nashawa office. The door hissed open and a woman dressed in the crisp uniform of a Matrian doctor entered.
“Mr. Mann,” she said smartly, “We attempted to make sense of Dr. Wowryk’s…scribbles. And they do seem to refer to Federation stasis technology. But I’m afraid we just don’t have enough to apply the process to Matrian equipment. We really need Dr. Wowryk for this,”
“And now that we’ve tried this the underhanded way, she’ll be suspicious if we ask her openly,” his secretary called from the outer office.
“Oh, for the…close the door! This is supposed to be a secret, private meeting!” Mann snapped. He turned back to the doctor. “Wowryk got away. The other two…who we don’t really care about anyway, got away. And they took the key! So we can’t even get M’Lady out of stasis if we wanted to!”
“Not that she would survive the revival procedure anyway, in her state,” the doctor pointed out.
“Which is why we needed Wowryk!” Mann said, “Curses! I understand why those two idiots and the lizard would rescue Wowryk, it’s our fault for being careless. But why would they take the key? How could they even know about it?”
The doctor paused.
“Do they even know about it?”
“Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me!”
“You have it?” Colonel Craigan, commander of the Matrian Intelligence team aboard Haven asked.
“Right here,” the large, burly Klingon dropped the small, oddly shaped electronic device into his palm, “They were using it as a pacifier. For the infant. An excellent plan, none of the M’Lady employees watching the transit system thought to scan an infant.”
“They may be geniuses at corporate espionage and cyber crime,” Craigan shook his head, “But when it comes to field work, they really stink. How did you get this from Lt Yanick and Lt Comd T’Parief?”
“Starfleet Intelligence has our…methods,” the Klingon shrugged, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must return to Matria Prime. I have duties to attend to.
“Yes, Matrian Intelligence thanks you for your assistance,” Craigan waved absently. Now that he had the key to M’Lady’s stasis pod, he could be reasonably sure that the old bat wouldn’t be popping back up anytime soon.
Mission accomplished. And no casualties. No one was hurt.
There was a squealing from one of his monitors. He switched it to the main display.
“-don’t know where that fancy pacifier went!” Yanick was complaining as she and T’Parief walked through the Nashawa spaceport with their screaming infant, “I swear we had it when we left the café!”
“If we do not find it soon,” T’Parief groaned, “I will tear out my ears myself.
Well, OK. Nobody was seriously hurt.
Craigan flipped off the screen.