Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry. He built the boat, floated the boat, watched the network sink the boat. Then there were movie boats, and spin-off boats, and pretty much a Trek Fleet. Then JJ sunk that fleet...or at least moved it to an alternate ocean, and built a shinier, flashier boat. Star Traks was created by Alan Decker. He built the boat with warped wood, duct tape and possibly a Jolly Roger. The boat never sank, but it sure went wandering off in some odd directions. Then there were more boats, a few collisions, strange new directions and the events that led to the motly Traks fleet. Star Traks: Silverado was created by Brendan Chris. That boat's full of holes. But it has a reasonably good pump system. And life jackets.

Author: Brendan Chris
Copyright: 2016

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.


Previously, on Star Traks: Silverado:


What was supposed to be a weekend outing to Matria Prime went horrible wrong for Jall, Yanick and Wowryk…but you already knew that. It was the bulk of the last story. Luckily, Capt Stafford missed out on all that fun after they left him unconscious on the deck in one of Haven’s docking bays. Unluckily…well, that’s where this story begins…


Stafford came to his senses in the middle of an empty hanger deck with a cold back and somebody’s finger in his mouth. Also, the very unpleasant sensation of electricity skittering along his nerves.

“There. He is awake,” Valtaic said, pulling his finger out of Stafford’s mouth, “Do you have a disinfectant wipe?”

“VALTAIC!” Stafford’s eyes went wide, “What the hell???”

“Ah asked him to wake ye up,” Jeffery said, “And…uh…look, y’explain it,”

“Human skin is not a very good conductor,” Valtaic said immediately, very matter-of-fact, “The amount of energy needed to overcome this makes it difficult to precisely administer the correct amount needed to wake you without producing discomfort or inducing cardiac arrest. The moisture in the mouth, or other bodily orifices, overcomes this-“

“OTHER ORIFICES??” Stafford was aghast, “Look, couldn’t you just shout, or make a loud noise or something??”

“That would be most undignified,” Valtaic sniffed.

“You STUCK YOUR…wait…why am I still here? Where are those idiots!?”

“They left for the planet,” Jeffery said, “Thank God. Ah don’t want to start a panic or anything,”

“I can’t believe they…” Stafford trailed off, “Panic? Simon, what’s going on?”

Jeffery looked around nervously.

“Come with me to the shipyard,” he said.

Now Stafford was worried. He followed Jeffery and Valtaic to the tram, which took them to Shipyard Three. Instead of going to the command center, Jeffery took him through a maze of corridors and into an airlock-style security checkpoint. Stafford frowned as they waited for the scans to run. He opened his mouth, but Jeffery shushed him.

They emerged into a small, secure work area. Stafford recognized some of the equipment; it was similar to some of the stuff down in Haven’s classified areas. So the shipyard had its own high-security area? Interesting…

But why was Jeffery showing it to him?”

“If this is a tour of obscure shipyard rooms, I would have rather gone down to the planet,” Stafford joked.

Jeffery didn’t smile. He tapped a button and Sylvia appeared on one of the monitors.

“We’ve had a theft,” Jeffery said, “Dekaire started running tests on Silverado’s secondary systems, and everything seems good to go so far. But when she started powering up the warp core for a test run-“

“Let me guess,” Stafford crossed his arms, “Somebody took our dilithium. So what? I mean, OK, yes it’s an issue. And we’ll have to call T’Parief back here to investigate. Or better yet, make the Haven guy do it, station security is his issue. But it’s the Matrian system. They have plenty of dilithium. Maybe not plenty. But enough. More than they need.”

“Exactly, Chris,” Sylvia said, “It’s the Matrian system. Dilithium isn’t that hard to come by.”

“Then what-“ Stafford’s eyes widened. There was something else that they needed for their warp core. It was sort of a touchy subject, as the Matrian production facilities were limited and they were becoming somewhat more reliant on Federation imports than they would have liked. But it was a very valuable substance, and the facilities to produce it in large quantities tended to attract negative attention. And Matria Prime already had too much of that.

“You don’t mean…”

“Aye,” Jeffery nodded, “Somebody stole our antimatter. All of it. Every last pod has been drained dry,”

“How is that even possible?” Stafford demanded, “That stuff is more tightly controlled than Wowryk’s special painkillers! Or, with her, any painkillers! You can’t just walk off with a bucket of antimatter tucked under one arm.”

“The pods were connected to the shipyard refuelling systems after we pulled them out of the ship,” Sylvia explained, “I have communed with Madam, the city central computer-“

“You may call it ‘communing’,” Madam cut in, her dry voice sounding a bit sulky, “I call it ‘brutal interrogation’,”

“Ignore her, her interface routines are still a bit scrambled,” Sylvia said, “In any event, the logs were altered. Our pods were drained into the city antimatter supply, which has been somewhat depleted due to all the unexpected travel the city has had to perform. Simultaneously, an identical amount was routed to Shipyard Five. The net effect being zero on Haven’s antimatter supply, which prevented Lt Wyer or Lt Comd Virgii from noticing a problem,”

“Nobody’s been in Shipyard Five since we found the place,” Jeffery said, “Other than a quick initial inventory. But we checked again. Nothing. Oh, something was connected to the fuel conduits, but there’s no DNA, no cellular residue, not even a scuff mark on the deck,”

“Who would steal…what, thirty pods worth of antimatter?” Stafford asked.

“Well, more like ten,” Jeffery said, “We weren’t runnin’ on a full tank,”

“I thought you had us totally stocked for this mission!”

“Oy, mate! The biggest redeeming quality of these old Ambassador-class models is how fuel-efficient they are! Those ten pods would get us back and forth between Earth and Matria Prime half a dozen times!”

“Oh,”

“We have had items go missing from the shipyard before,” Valtaic said, looking pointedly at Sylvia,”

“The first thing we did was check the construction bot storage in Shipyard Six,” Sylvia said, “It’s full. The bots are still there, powered down. The shipyard itself is still inactive.”

“So what do you suggest we do, borrow antimatter from Haven?” Stafford asked.

“Do ye want to tell Captain Simplot that we lost all our antimatter and need some of hers?” Jeffery asked.

“I…would prefer not to,” Stafford admitted.

“Then we have some investigating to do,” Valtaic said briskly, “I recommend we recall the remainder of the staff at once,”

“No,” Sylvia said immediately, “Recalling the runabout will just advertise that something is wrong. We don’t want the thieves to know we are on their tails. Fifebee is currently assisting with the geological survey of this moon. She can load some investigative personalities and assist us until Mr. T’Parief returns.”

“Good points,” Stafford mused, “But why is SHE allowed to help the Haven people all of a sudden?”

“Because their science officer gained magic powers, was assimilated by the Borg, took control of a small sub-collective and is apparently about to go to war with a bunch of fungus-people over the scattered remainders of a race that has been extinct since humanity thought flinging feces was the peak of cultural entertainment,” Valtaic explained.

Stafford, Jeffery and Sylvia stared at him for several moments.

“Please tell me our mission reports never sound that insane,” Stafford pleaded.

“Shall we review Delorea II?” Sylvia asked, “Or perhaps our encounter with the Probability Drive?”

“Ahhh…shit…” Stafford groaned.

“Still,” Valtaic spoke up, “The crime did occur on their station. We must at least notify them that we’re investigating a serious incident.”

Stafford bit his lip.

“He’s right, Chris,” Sylvia said gently.

“Oh OK,” Stafford sighed, “I guess it can’t hurt,”


“No,”

“What do you MEAN no?” Stafford demanded.

“Look, little guy,” the muscular security officer said, “I can’t let you on this ship. I’ve been notified that there was a crime, and I’m declaring the whole shipyard a crime scene. That means you have to leave,”

“Do you know what the crime is?” Stafford asked.

“Well…no. Just that it happened. Which is enough.”

“We reported the crime! And I’m the captain of this ship!” Stafford snapped.

“Really? Dude, do you even lift?”

“What does that even…look,” Stafford clenched his fists, “Lieutenant…”

“Stoneryder,” Sylvia supplied helpfully.

“Stoneryder,” Stafford’s eyes flickered briefly over to Sylvia, “We’re trying to keep this whole thing quiet, remember? So the thie…uh, so the criminals don’t know we’re after them?”

“Oh, totally, bro,” Stoneryder nodded, “Nobody knows. Except my team. And the Jungle Squad. And I guess Captain Simplot and our senior officers,”

“Do you even KNOW what secret…oh forget it!” Stafford turned away. So much for keeping this quiet! Of all the stupid, idiotic things they could have done, notifying Haven Security was apparently at the top of the list. “Stafford to Hazardous Team, meet me in the Shipyard Three lounge in ten-“

“Shipyard Three is off-limits now, bro,” Stoneryder reminded him.

“In my condo then! Ten minutes!”

It was more like twenty, but Stafford knew that trying to chastise Stern and the rest over the timing just wouldn’t go anywhere. Nowhere he wanted to go, anyway.

“We’ve got missing antimatter, the Haven security team has locked down our shipyard for their investigation, even though they don’t even know what the crime is, half our senior staff is down on the planet, and Sylvia is sure the Shipyard Six bots have nothing to do with it,” he said without preamble, “So here’s what we’re going to do: We’re going to…what?”

Stern had cleared his throat and was giving Stafford that look that told Stafford that his subordinate wanted to say something, wasn’t really ready to interrupt him yet, but would totally contradict him after he’d finished speaking. So he just cut to the chase, crossed his arms and waited for Stern to speak.

“Sir, how many times have you investigated a major theft?” Stern asked.

“Well…”

“Exactly. This is one of those times where you wave your hand imperiously, say ‘I want that antimatter found and I want it found yesterday’, then you let us do our thing,” Stern said, striking a confident pose.

“Uh…like this?” Stafford waved his arm.

“No, you’re supposed to imply an uncaring dismissal,” Marsden said, “That just looks like you’re waving hello,”

“Just solve this!” Stafford said, making a general shooing motion, “I don’t have time to play your stupid games, I just want that antimatter found! Now!”

“There you go, sir! Just like that!”

Stafford pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration as the Hazardous Team filed out.

“Valtaic, can you at least try to make sure they don’t blow anything up?”

Valtaic looked at him uneasily.

“I can…try…” he said.

Valtaic left, leaving Stafford and Jeffery alone in the condo.

“So now what?” Jeffery asked.

“I don’t know,” Stafford shrugged, “I was supposed to go down to Matria Prime for a couple days off, but those assholes left me behind. Because of you, I might add.”

“Sorry, mate,” Jeffery was quiet for a few moments, “We could drink here?”

“No,” Stafford sighed, “They might not need us for this part, but I can’t justify it. Must be getting old.”

“Uhhh…” Jeffery thought for a moment, “Hardly any shops. No holodecks. Too far to get to Matria Prime in time at this point,”

“What the hell are we going to do with ourselves?” Stafford wondered.


Fifebee was in one of the laboratories in the Department of Research & Knowledge tower, tapping away happily at the master analysis panel. She’d adjusted the Old Matrian sensor systems to something close to what she was used to and was taking the time to do a proper, thorough analysis of the moon the city had landed on. There were no explosions, no enemies bearing down on her, no illegal experiments being conducted by her staff, and no crisis of the week to force hasty work. No, all she had to do was help the Haven scientists and engineers to understand just how stable (or not) the city’s landing site was going to be in the long term. She’d been examining the state of the core (molten), the movement of the outer core liquids (moving, but not too much) and the activity of the magnetic field (present, but fairly weak.) Although the core was still somewhat liquid, the moon lacked the mantle and convection currents necessary for tectonic movement.

All in all, there shouldn’t be anything for the city to worry about, aside from meteors. Those could easily be deflected with the city shields, or destroyed with a phaser blast. But there was still one thing she couldn’t quite put her finger on. It had sufficiently stumped the Haven crew enough to bring her in, but she wasn’t having much luck either.

“Lt Commander Fifebee,” Valtaic greeted her politely as he stepped into the lab, “If I might have a word?”

“Will you be skipping the unnecessarily pleasantries and moving straight to business?”

“Of course,” Valtaic nodded.

“Excellent,” Fifebee favoured him with a small smile, “How may I assist you?”

Valtaic quickly looked around to confirm they were alone.

“A large quantity of antimatter fuel has been stolen from Silverado,” he said without preamble, “The Captain and Mr Jeffery are obsessed with trying to keep it secret, but are doing a poor job. The Haven crew have declared Silverado a crime scene without knowing why. Commander Jall, Lt Comd T’Parief, Dr. Wowryk and Lt Yanick are all on the planet. The Hazardous Team is investigating, and the Captain wants you to load an investigative personality and assist,”

Fifebee turned to him.

“I don’t just change personalities like he changes his underwear!” she snapped, “And I will have him know I am already investigating something without loading up any 20th Century Earth detectives!”

“And are you succeeding?” Valtaic asked curiously.

“Well…no,” Fifebee admitted, “We are examining the stability of this moon. We have examined and identified almost everything that could possibly affect the city. But there is an anomaly approximately five kilometres from the city that we cannot explain. Even kelbonite doesn’t leave such a complete sensor dead zone.”

“Dangerous?” Valtaic inquired.

“No. Just…annoying.”

“Then I believe this antimatter issue is of higher priority,” he said, “More importantly, the Captain has charged me with preventing the Hazardous Team from causing damage to the city while they investigate.”

Fifebee started.

“Investigate an ANTIMATTER theft? As in, examine the city’s antimatter storage facilities?”

“I assume so,” Valtaic agreed.

“And you left them alone to come find me?” she demanded.

“Well, yes-“

“Come at once,” she grabbed his arm, ignoring the energy spike that temporarily scrambled her imaging system, “We haven’t a moment to lose!”


Lt Commander Stern stared up at the massive racks of antimatter storage pods, his jaw dropping as he lost count.

“That,” he said, “is a LOT of antimatter,”

“Nearly two hundred pods,” Lt Marsden agreed, “in six separate storage facilities. Each with triple-redundant ejection systems,”

“None of which work while the city is landed,” Lt Rengs gulped, “Who’s bright idea was that?”

“Where did Simmons go?” Stern suddenly started looking around.

“He’s over in the corner,” Marsden said, “Dar’ugal and Kreklor are making sure he doesn’t touch anything,”

“What’s he doing over there?” Stern demanded.

“Ummm…I think he’s trying to hide his erection,” Rengs said.

“Can’t say I blame him,” Stern shrugged, looking around at the pods, each containing enough destructive energy to obliterate half a planet, “I stay here much longer and I’ll have the same problem,”

Marsden moved to the control panel set into one wall of the storage facility. Aside from lots of locks on the doors and routine sweeps by station security, the facility was surprisingly low-key. He tapped away for a moment.

“The thieves transferred the antimatter through this facility,” he said, “And it was done from this access panel. They bypassed the security systems and tried to bypass the computer logs, but they didn’t fully manage that piece.”

“STOP!” the doors hissed open, “Nobody move!”

Stern spun around, but it was only Fifebee and Valtaic.

“What?” he asked.

“We are here to ensure you do not accidentally destroy the city!” Fifebee declared.

“And you think barging in here and scaring the crap out of us when we’re carrying weapons and surrounded by antimatter is the way to do it?” Rengs asked.

“Well…”

“Look, we’ve learned all we can here anyway,” Stern said, “We may as well move on to the crime scene itself and see what we can find,”

“In a minute,” Simmons called.

“Oh for…come on, Simmons!” Stern called, “We have work to do.”

“I can’t go walking through the city like this,” Simmons called back, “And…and I don’t think it’s going to go down while I’m surrounded by all this INCREADIBLE EXPLOSIVE AWSOMENESS!!!”

“Simmons, I doubt anybody is going to notice,” Stern called.

Kreklor looked at Stern from where he was standing behind Simmons. He moved out of sight for a moment, then returned.

“Actually, they will,” he said, “He is surprisingly gifted, for a human,”

If there had been crickets aboard the city, you would have heard them chirping about now.

Stern shook his head, “OK, look, we have a job to do. Let’s just be adult about this. I’m sure once we get out of here it’ll go down. I’ve had this problem before, it’s…” he stifled a laugh “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,”

“Yes it is,” Fifebee said flatly, “It is a rather unsanitary organic function.”

“I could apply a shock of low enough voltage to cause discomfort-“ Valtaic started.

“No,” Simmons replied, “No, not that.”

“It’s just a bit of electricity,” Rengs said, “Can we just move on? Don’t be afraid!”

Valtaic’s eyes narrowed and he gave Rengs a look that clearly said ‘Electricity? How insultingly primitive’.

“I’m not afraid!” Simmons said, “It’s just…I’m…”

Stern face-palmed.

“He’s into electro-stimulation,” he groaned, “Thanks anyway, Valtaic. But we don’t need him any more turned on.”

Valtaic looked thoughtful.

“That is a thing among humans? Perhaps I should reconsider pursuing sexual relationships with human females.”

“We do not have time for this,” Fifebee snapped. Anybody watching closely would have noticed the Klingon ridges just barely showing on her forehead, “All of you, out. I will take care of this myself,”

“W-wait…” Simmons gulped, “How are you…are you going to hurt me?”

“No,” Fifebee snapped, “But you will be silent. As I am programming my sensory inputs so that you resemble the current quarterback of the Manchester United team.”

The rest hastily started moving towards the door.

“So,” Stern asked Valtaic as the doors hissed shut, “Only female humans?”

“For the time being,” Valtaic replied thoughtfully.


“That was fast,” Valtaic commented a few minutes later as Fifebee and Simmons emerged from the antimatter storage facility.

“We are in a hurry,” Fifebee said briskly, “And it was not difficult. I simply had to be sure he was able to see the antimatter pods at all times,”

“I see,” Valtaic fell quiet. The Hazardous Team had taken off towards the public corridors and stairways that would take them back towards the nearest tram station. Stern and Marsden were discussing the logging systems used by the city fuel management setup, and Simmons was wondering along with a happy looking grin on his face.

“Problem?” Fifebee asked pointedly.

“I have no reason to concern myself with the social irrelevancies that are at play,” Valtiac replied carefully. Lithinarian culture was an interesting balance between being completely blunt, but also not wasting time on irrelevant prattle that served little purpose. It made him both refreshing and very frustrating to deal with. On the other hand, he’d been living among other races for some time now, and on more than one occasion he’d slipped and found himself asking a question that, for him, was not appropriate.

On the other, other hand, he usually didn’t have to. His shipmates were more than eager to share. And despite being a hologram, Fifebee had been programmed by a human.

“You are wondering why I, an artificial being with no reproductive needs, would copulate with an organic,” she said flatly.

“The thought had crossed my mind, but I determined it rude to mention,” Valtaic replied, “It is also not, in the human turn of phrase, any of my business.”

“I don’t find such things rude,”

“You despise all the untidy processes associated with organic life,” Valtiac pointed out, getting straight to the point, “The contradiction I cannot understand is, why expose yourself to one of the least sanitary organic acts when such things clearly repel you?”

“A human being isn’t the same as insects, bacteria, rot, or animals that consume or throw their own waste,” Fifebee said, “They may still be..unclean…but they cannot help that part of themselves, despite their best efforts. And there is of course-“

“Fifebee,” Stern had dropped back and spoke quietly, “You know you didn’t have to do that. I mean, we appreciate it…I don’t think he’s actually been with a real woman for at least a year. But I know that’s not really your…thing,”

“I found the experience enjoyable,” Fifebee said, “Let us speak no more of it,”

“Great,” Stern moved back to the front, relieved that there wasn’t likely to be a sexual harassment complaint anytime soon.

“And there was that,” Fifebee added to Valtaic.

“That you found it enjoyable?”

“Being subjected to a rubbery, unwashed length of organic flesh while its sweating owner attempts to reach a primitive reproductive climax?” Fifebee scoffed, “You are correct, it is not a tidy process. But you miss the key point.”

Valtaic looked confused, then his eyes widened.

“No comments about being a hologram,” he murmured, “No human jokes about relieving sexual stress on the holodeck. Simply a woman engaging in relations with a man.”

“Yes,” Fifebee nodded, “To be perceived as a real person, woman or otherwise, is a significant achievement,”

“I was under the impression you enjoyed life as an artificial being, separate from humanity and the rest of us organics?”

“Ah, so you WERE paying attention to our ‘social irrelevancies’!” Fifebee almost sounding…teasing?

“They reveal a great deal of information about you and our colleagues,” he replied truthfully.

“Indeed. But to answer your question, you are correct, I have no wish to be human. Still…a sense of belonging, of being accepted by the group, is still desirable. I believe Dr. Zimmerman included that in my programming in order to prevent me from attempting to dominate or eradicate human civilization,”

Valtaic decided to file THAT little tidbit away for future consideration.

“And so to achieve this acceptance,” he said carefully, “you permit something you dislike? An assault on your very body?”

“My body is a projection of hard light,” Fifebee waved a hand, “And though I find organic flesh somewhat distasteful, I have engaged in and enjoyed sexual activities in the past. I do in fact have pleasure subroutines. Very extensive ones, I might add. Again, probably to prevent me from turning into one of those evil AIs that attempts to wipe out humanity.”

“Oh,”

“The hard part is finding a male who knows how to engage them,” Fifebee added under her breath.

“Only male organics?” Valtaic asked.

“For the time being,”


They arrived at Shipyard Five without incident. It only took a few brief moments to confirm what they’d already been told.

“Residual magnetic flux,” Marsden said, running a tricorder over several pod connection ports, “There were antimatter pods connected here. Can’t be sure if they were filled or emptied, but fuel was definitely moved,”

“The logs say they were filled,” Fifebee supplied helpfully.

“Gotta be thorough,” Stern said, “Anything else?”

“Definitely no trace of organic life,” Rengs said, running his own tricorder around the room, “No cellular residue, hair follicles, not even bacteria from recent exhalations. The place is sterile,”

“Transporter beams? Did they beam the pods in and out?”

Crewman Dar’ugal made a series of gestures.

“Yeah, he’s right,” Stern agreed, “They might have beamed empty pods, but you can’t beam full ones,”

“No sign of transporter bea…” Marsden trailed off, “Well, that’s interesting…I’m picking up signs of holographic activity!”

“I’m standing right here,” Fifebee said flatly, waving one hand.

“No,” Marsden shook his head, “I mean yes, yes you are,

“Hi…” Simmons said shyly.

Stern smacked him upside the head, then looked over Marsden’s shoulder.

“Can you look at this?” he asked Fifebee.

She looked.

“Photonic energy traces,” she frowned, suddenly interested, “From the decay, I would estimate they were from roughly six hours ago.”

“They used holograms to move the antimatter pods?” Valtaic asked.

“Perhaps,” Fifebee nodded. She turned to Marsden, “Excellent work,”

“I found this,” Simmons inserted himself between the two of them.

“That is a piece of magnetic shielding for the conduits,” Fifebee advised him, “Put it back so the next person to work here doesn’t blow up the city,”

“So what now?” she asked Stern as Simmons trudged away.

“Now, we need to scan the city for holographic signatures and figure out where the pods were taken,” Stern replied, “It’s going to take a while though…especially with all the stairwells and turbolift shafts they might have gone through. Plus, we assume they left the city at some point.”

“We don’t have a lot of time,” Marsden cut in, “The trail is already pretty weak. It’s fading by the minute,”

“I may have a thought on that,” Valtaic offered.


“You want a ship,” Stafford said flatly.

“We believe the culprits either were or used holograms,” Valtaic said, “The Matrian’s internal sensors are not designed with holographic signals in mind. The sensors on the runabouts would work, but one of the Hummingbird-class ships would be ideal. We would require roughly an hour to complete the scans and either trace the holographic residue to the thieves, or possible locate a still-active emitter.”

Stafford drummed his fingers on the table. He and Jeffery were seated in the Silverado Steakhouse, trying to find something that would take the edge off, but without alcohol. Or synthehol

“Valtaic, if it was anyone but you, at this point…” he sighed, “Look, I’ll call Captain Simplot. Those are her ships, not ours. OK?”

“Yes sir,”

“And Valtaic…look, I know you’re still somewhat new to the crew, so you don’t know those guys like we do. No matter how in control you think you are, no matter how calm things seem…they’re going to do something unexpected to screw things up,”

“Thanks sir, it’s great to be appreciated,” Stern’s voice came over the comm.

“You know it’s deserved,” Stafford said.

“Yeah. OK. Stern out.”

Nothing happened.

“Valtaic out,”

The channel closed.

“You boys decided what you’d like?” Samantha asked them, coming up to the table.

“Yeah. I’ve changed my mind,” Stafford said, “What’s better for the imminent end of the world, wine, beer or liquor?”

“I’m not sure. But when my world ends, I usually like a pint of Haagen-Dans. Rippin’ Romulan is my favourite,”

“Sure. Why not?” Stafford tossed his menu on the table.

“So canna drink, or canna not drink?” Jeffery asked.

“Synthehol only,” Stafford waved a hand. Then he tapped his comm-badge.

“Sylvia?”

There was a pause.

“Yes, Captain?” Sylvia’s voice came back.

“Can you join us for a moment?” he asked, “We’re sending the HT out with a ship, and I’d like to think about how we can NOT let them turn this into a disaster.

Another pause, this one several seconds long.

“Lt Commander Fifebee currently has the holo-relay,” Sylvia’s voice replied, devoid of emotion, “It is out of range of your present location. Perhaps I may assist in other ways?”

“No, that’s fine,” Stafford sighed, “Talk to you later. Stafford out.”

“Sylvia out.” The line closed.

“Wow, whot did ye do, boyo?” Jeffery asked, “Ah haven’t heard her that frigid since Ah told her her haggis recipe needed work?”

“Pre-launch jitters?” Stafford shrugged, looking out at Silverado. The paint job was nearly complete, and he was itching to take her out again. Far far away from Matrian space, “Can’t say I blame her. A few more days later, and we would have had a REAL ship out chasing those thieves!”

“Right. A real ship. With no fuel.”

“She’s still half-decent running off the impulse reactors,” Stafford said, “We proved that after we lost our warp core!”

“Ah suppose,” Jeffery waved Samantha back over, “Get me a Scottish Coffee,”

“You mean an Irish Coffee, right” Samantha asked.

“Ah mean whot Ah said!”

“I don’t understand,” Samantha frowned, “What’s a Scottish Coffee?”

“Ohhh, here we go,” Stafford groaned.


“We’ve been given authorization to use one of the Hummingbird-class ships for two hours,” Valtaic reported, “It is in Shipyard Four,”

“Why there?” Stern asked.

“They’re usually kept docked in the lower docking ports,” Marsden piped up, “But you can’t use those ports when the city is landed. And those ships are too big for the docking bays. But they have landing gear, so they just set them down on the shipyard deck,”

“Who designed this place anyway?” Stern asked. “Whatever. To the tram station!”


“If you’ll just give your authorization here,” the Starfleet security officer held a pad towards Valtaic, “We’ll release the command codes for the ship to you,”

“I simply require a moment to read-“

“No time for that,” Stern pushed Valtaic’s hand down on the padd, getting a zap up his arm and a shorted-out padd for his trouble, “Bad guys to catch!”

The security officer eyed the padd as it sparked, the display winking in and out half-heartedly. He grabbed another one from his partner then held it out, careful to maintain a distance from the dark-skinned officer.

“Let’s go!” Stern urged them.

“You should always read the user agreement,” Valtaic said.

“Nobody reads those! Besides, we’re in a hurry!”

Valtaic thumbed the padd.

“Have a safe flight,” the security guard said, his voice far from sincere.

“Thanks!” Simmons said cheerfully.

They made their way into the shipyard itself, waiting until Valtaic had checked the panel and confirmed that the shipyard entrance force-field was in place and the shipyard atmosphere breathable. Through the viewport, they could see the two sleek ships parked on their ungainly landing struts. They did not, in any way, resemble hummingbirds. Or any other kind of bird. They looked more like bedroomm slippers with warp nacelles and a ring around the back.

“Which one?” Marsden asked.

“Hummingbird,” Stern replied.

They looked at the hulls of the two ships.

“On the right,” Stern said.

The airlock to the shipyard floor opened and they quickly boarded the ship.

“Kreklor, take tactical,” Stern ordered, “Rengs, you’re on the science station. Dar’ugal, engineering. Marsden, you can fly one of these, right?”

“As long as we’re just flying in a straight line, I guess,” Marsden shrugged.

“Try not to pass out,” Simmons suggested.

Stern was about to sit in the command chair at the center of the small bridge, then he turned to Valtaic and Fifebee.

“Oh. I guess I’m not actually the ranking officer,” he muttered.

“We’re just here to supervise,” Fifebee assured him. She tapped at the engineering panel as Dar’ugal manoeuvred into the cramped seat and attempted to transfer her program from her holo-relay to the ship and its built-in imaging system.

The console flashed ‘ACCESS DENIED’.

“Uh, I can’t get into the controls,” Marsden complained.

“USS Hummingbird to Shipyard Four, I thought you were going to release the command codes to us,” Stern said, tapping the comm button on the captain’s chair.

“We did,” a voice came back immediately, “You idiots are supposed to be on the USS Roadrunner!”

Stern blinked.

“But Stafford said we were supposed to take the Hummingbird…”

“He said Hummingbird-class,” Fifebee said, face-palming, “Not the Hummingbird itself,”

“We’re on the wrong ship,” Rengs groaned.

“Well,” Stern looked out the window at the identical ship parked a few meters away, “Let’s get over to the Roadrunner before-“

His voice trailed off as the Roadrunner abruptly lifted off and began backing out of the shipyard.

“Shipyard Four,” he asked slowly, “Who’s on the Roadrunner?”

“Nobody,” the voice was sounding more than a bit concerned, “The ship is empty!”

“Lock out the command codes!” Fifebee said quickly.

“We tried, they’ve been changed!”

“We need access to this ship,” Fifebee said, cutting off whatever Stern might have said.

“Oh, sure, give you people ANOTHER ship to-“

“I need access to the sensor array!” Fifebee hissed.

“Fine!”

There was a beep, then the screens on the bridge unlocked. Fifebee gently pushed Rengs out of the way and began tapping at the controls.

“I’m picking up some sort of triaxilating subspace signal,” she said, “It is directed at the Roadrunner! Somebody is controlling her remotely,”

“Marsden, follow that ship!” Stern ordered, “Fifebee, track that signal!”

“Fifebee to Sylvia,” Fifebee tapped her badge.

“Sylvia here,”

“I need assistance with-“

“I’m sorry, I’m rather occupied at the moment. Could you please call me back later?”

The line went dead.

“Well that doesn’t help,” Fifebee muttered, turning her attention back to the controls.

If the Roadrunner had been parked with her bow facing out, they never would have caught up. But the ship, either intentionally or more likely through laziness, had simply been flown into the shipyard and landed, stern facing back towards the exit. It wobbled slightly in the internal gravity field as it moved backward on thrusters, moving slowly towards the exit.

Marsden spun the Hummingbird on her axis,.

“Engaging impulse,” he announced.

“NO!” Valtaic barked, jumping forward. He was too late to stop Marsden from hitting the impulse controls.

But the engine controls only gave a flat beep…the impulse reactors were still coming up to full power. Good thing too, the mix of impulse fusion exhaust and a shipyard bulkhead less than twenty meters away would have been…melty.

“I am here to PREVENT you from damaging the city,” he said crisply, “That includes melting a hole in a shipyard bulkhead with engine exhaust!”

“Sorry,” Marsden gulped, “Uh…full thrusters?”

“Better,”

The Hummingbird eased out of the shipyard, turning after the Roadrunner.

“These are quantum slipstream ships,” Marsden pointed out, “If whoever is stealing the Roadrunner engages the drive-“

“They won’t,” Fifebee cut in, “The control signal would cut out immediately. Even warp drive would be unlikely,”

“So whoever wants the ship is nearby?” Stern wondered, “Who on Earth would steal a ship by remote? It’s going to lead us right to them!”

Something was nagging at Valtaic’s mind but he wasn’t quite sure what.


“They took the wrong ship,” Stafford groaned, closing the channel over which Captain Simplot had been loudly complaining about the Hazardous Team.

“It’s only an Irish Coffee if you pe Irish whiskey in it!” Jeffery insisted for the third time, “When ye use Scotch, it’s a Scottish Coffee! It’s totally different,”

“They still put whipped cream on top,” Stafford pointed out, head in his hands, “I though Valtaic of all people would keep those people in check. This is a highly sensitive theft they’re supposed to be investigating!”

“They have a new theft to investigate now,” Jeffery said, sipping his drink and ending up with whipped cream along his upper lip.

Stafford lifted his head.

“Who’s investigating the antimatter theft while they chase after a stolen ship?” he asked, “For that matter…none of this is making any sense! Somebody steals enough antimatter to travel halfway across the Federation. Now somebody’s stealing a tiny little ship that-“

“-that has a dangerous experimental drive that could take them halfway across the galaxy on a thimble of the stuff,” Jeffery took another swig of his drink, “Doubt it’s the same thief, mate. Ye’d only fit a couple of those pods on that tiny ship anyway,”

“But it still means the team that’s supposed to be finding our missing antimatter is playing tag with a stolen ship!” he’d risen and started pacing, “Stafford to Sylvia! I need you to-“

“Yes Chris?” Sylvia’s voice was still flat, “I’m sorry, can you call me back? I’m rather busy,”

“Sylvia, drop whatever it is you’re doing, this is more important!”

“I’m sorry Chris, I can’t do that,” Sylvia replied.

“That’s not Sylvia,” Jeffery said, his eyes widening.

“Who is this?” Stafford demanded, “Identify yourself!”

But the channel had gone dead.

“Jeffery, go check on Sylvia!” Stafford ordered.

“What are ye goin’ to do?” Jeffery asked, getting to his feet.

“Something I should have done from the start,” he tapped his comm-badge, “Stafford to Beta Shift. Meet on me aboard Silverado immediately.”

“Report to the bridge.”


“Can we open fire on them?” Simmons asked eagerly, “Knock out their engines?”

“You may not,” Valtaic said bluntly, “They are keeping close to the city. If they lose control, they may crash into it,”

Ahead of them, the Roadrunner lurched drunkenly to port, then righted itself and continued its leisure pace as it traversed the city dome.

“Their control link seems unstable,” Fifebee remarked, “I may be able to block it, but again, the ship would crash,”

“Transporters?” Stern asked.

“Their shields are up,”

Dar’ugl grabbed Valtaic’s arm to get his attention, the resulting spark making his thick reddish-orange fur stand straight up. He pantomimed one hand flying around like a ship, then grabbed it suddenly.

“I beg your pardon?” Valtaic asked. Lithinarian culture had never really cared much for Charades.

“Tractor beam,” Rengs explained after Dar’ugal repeated the gesture, “Yeah, that could work, but give me a minute to get the emitter charged. This ship was powered all the way down,”

Ahead of them, the Roadrunner had reached the far end of the city and had slid down, starting to circle along the Outer Rim, keeping close to the inset ring of a dozen or so decks of windows that circled the city. Any collision with the city at that point would cause serious damage. Hummingbird caught up just as it was passing Docking Bay 11.

“I can tell when I’m being led by the nose,” Stern said unhappily, “What the hell is going on here?? If they wanted to get away, why not blast towards space at full impulse?”

“Tractor beam ready,” Rengs said.

Roadrunner lazily continued its circle of the city, almost seeming to taunt them.

“Let’s end this foolishness,” Valtaic said, “Lock on the tractor beam,”

“Sir,” Stern was still frowning at the other ship, “Whoever is pulling the strings wants us kept busy chasing the Roadrunner. Probably because the more time we waste out here, the less time we’re spending actually looking for our missing antimatter,”

“All the more reason to capture them now,”

“But they’re just teasing us!” Stern objected, “I think they WANT us to catch them!”

“If they wanted us to catch them, why would they leave in the first place?” Valtaic blinked.


Stafford and the Beta Shift officers stepped out of the turbolift and onto the Silverado bridge. He’d expected to have to call Simplot to get her security goon out of the way, but apparently he’d gotten bored with the guard task, or been otherwise disposed of. His ship floated serenely in the shipyard scaffolding, only a few of the former horde of constructions bots were still completing last-minute tasks. He strode up the gangway unopposed and stepped through the airlock into the corridors of his ship.

The bridge consoles came to life as Pye, Day, Quintane and Burke slid into their seats and Bithe stood behind the tactical panel. Stafford took a deep breath, looking around the gleaming, flawless bridge. His ship! Finally! He was getting ready to take HIS SHIP out again!

“Bridge to Engineering,” he thumbed the chair control.

“Sage here,” the voice of the Beta shift engineer came up, “Uh, why are you guys on the bridge? This ship isn’t supposed to be going anywhere for another week!”

“We have an emergency,” Stafford said, unable to keep a bit of a grin off his face, “We’re launching. Now.”

“Well shit,” Sage groaned, “Look, Captain, the antimatter supply is pretty much depleted. Warp power is a no-go-“

“Look, I just need thrusters, impulse, transporters, tractor beam, maybe shields,” Stafford cut him off, “And maybe weapons.”

“And that’s it, is it?” Sage tapped his panel for a while, “OK, fine. I can give you thrusters and impulse. Shields and tractor beams at reduced power. No weapons. The phaser banks and torpedo launchers are flat-lined, and if you want them recharged off impulse power I’ll have to cut power to most of the other systems,”

“I’ll take it,” Stafford cut the channel. He squirmed in his seat…just what the hell had those bots done to it when they’d rebuilt the ship?”

“Clear all moorings,” he ordered, “Bring the SIF and IDF systems online.”

“Running lights?” Day asked.

“Hell yeah,” Stafford grinned, “Make sure they can see who we are. “

He rubbed his hands together, then stood.

“Thrusters at one half. Ease us out,”


In the Steakhouse Lounge, several diners looked up in surprise as spotlights came on across Silverado’s hull, splashing light into the restaurant through the big windows looking into the shipyard. Her name and registry were clearly visible, though one solitary bot was still working on the outline around the registry number.

At one particular table, Captain Elizabeth Simplot, Dr Janet Annerson, Lt Commander Josh Shurgroe and Lt Wyer had just finished ordering dessert.

“So you trust these people to get our ship back, huh?” Annerson asked Simplot.

“Not completely,” Simplot said, sounding more than a bit cranky, “But do you know what I know for sure?”

“What?” Wyer asked.

“Us running around after them with runabouts and tractor beams isn’t going to help one bit,” Simplot said, sipping her wine, “They got our ship stolen, they can get it back,”

There was a puff of thrusters, then the big Ambassador-class ship started easing away from the window.

“And that,” she added, gesturing with her wine glass, “probably isn’t going to end well either.”


Jeffery raced into the small room that had been turned into a storage unit for the Federation computer core that had spent the past several months as Sylvia’s home away from home. Fifebee had transferred her program to one of the runabouts because, in her words, ‘some places just aren’t big enough for a roommate’.

Jeffery looked to the left and saw the computer module, blinking happily away. He looked to the right and saw Sylvia’s module, intact and secure.

But the cable connecting the core to the city computer system had been fried.

“Simon!” Sylvia’s voice came from the module, “Finally! I’ve been trying to get SOMEBODY to come check on me for hours! They used a power surge to kick my core off the city computer, thank heavens the protection circuits cut the connection before I could take any damage! But I’ve been completely cut off!”

“Somebody’s been pretendin’ to be yer voicemail,” Jeffery explained, “Kept tellin’ us you were too busy ta talk. In yer voice, Ah might add,”

“It’s the bots!” Sylvia exclaimed, “Probably the ones from Shipyard Six! I’d know their program code anywhere! They’ve managed to get a worm into the city computer! It happened after the antimatter theft, so I don’t know why-“

“They’ve got ta be the ones that’re controlin’ the Roadrunner!” Jeffery quickly explained about the hijacked ship. He expected Sylvia to have more useful information to add, but she was quiet for a moment.

“Now why on Earth would they do that?” she wondered.

“Sylvia, what about Silverado’s computers? Chris is taking the ship out now to chase the Roadrunner!”

“They haven’t been connected to the city,” Sylvia said, “They should be fine. The bots can’t break our systems, that’s probably why they waited until somebody unlocked the Roadrunner’s command codes. But why….”

She paused.

“Jeffery, get me reconnected, then take me to Shipyard Six. I need to check something.”


“We will clear the shipyard in ten seconds,” Lt Pye reported, “Ventral thrusters are ready, we’re going to need them as soon as we clear the shipyard’s antigravity field,”

“Where’s the Roadrunner?” Stafford asked Bithe.

“Coming around the edge of the city to our port,” she reported, “Hummingbird is in pursuit.

“Once we’re clear, turn us to port and get us some altitude,” Stafford struggled to keep his voice professional, but inside he was still clapping his hands like a kid, “Z-plus five hundred meters, and have the forward tractor emitter ready,”

“Yes sir,”

“Piece of cake,”


“Engage the tractor beam,” Valtaic ordered.

“Yes sir,” Stern gave in, “Kreklor?”

“Tractor lock established.

“Reverse thrusters,” Stern ordered.

The Hummingbird shook as she locked onto her sister ship. She slowed, but the Roadrunner was still moving around the outer curve of the city.

“Sir,” Marsden looked up from his panel, “Uh, we’ve got her surrounded.”

The Roadrunner was dragging them close to Shipyard 3. As they watched, Silverado’s saucer cleared the shipyard scaffolding. With puffs from her manoeuvring thrusters, the big ship started to turn to face them, slowly rising from the moon’s surface.

“Good,” Valtaic nodded, “We will recapture this ship, then return to our-“

“Roadrunner is firing her impulse engines,” Fifebee snapped.

“Full reverse!” Stern gulped, his eyes wide.


“Tractor beam,” Stafford ordered, watching the small ship inch towards them, barely able to keep its momentum with the Hummingbird pulling back from behind.

“I think they’re powering up their-“

Bithe didn’t have a chance to finish her sentence before the Roadrunner surged forward, the combination of her own impulse drive and Silverado’s tractor beam yanking her towards the bigger ship.

“Cut tractor! Evasive manoeuvres!”

The Roadrunner shot right below Silverado’s saucer, the port edge of her saucer clipping the interconnecting dorsal between the saucer and engineering hulls. She bounced, thrusters firing, then the starboard edge of her saucer clipped the vertical strut of Silverado’s port nacelle pylon. Both ships shuddered, Roadrunner dropping as her ring nacelle managed to wedge itself against Silverado’s lower nacelle pylon. The Hummingbird, further back, managed to veer off in time.

“Damage report!” Stafford snapped.

“Hull breach on Deck 14,” Day replied, “Buckling on the port nacelle pylon, but fairly minor-“

“Sir, the helm…something’s wrong!” Pye reported. Stafford looked at the viewscreen only to see the view angling upward as something pulled Silverado down and back.

“Their engines are still running!” Burke reported from Sciences, “She’s pulling us down to the moon’s surface!”

“Impulse-“ Stafford started.

The ship shook again, knocking them to the deck.


Aboard the USS Humminbird, Valtaic and Stern winced as Silverado’s engineering hull hit the moon’s surface. It was a fairly gentle impact, as impacts went, the soft lunar soil making way for the solid duranium hull, a mound forming as Silverado was dragged slowly across the landscape by the smaller USS Roadrunner.

There was silence for several moments.

“Are the Roadrunner’s shields still up?” Valtaic finally asked.

“No,” Fifebee reported.

“Rengs, Simmons, beam over there and shut that ship down,” Stern ordered.

“Sir,” they both left.

Again, several moments of silence.

“It appears the damage is quite minor,” Fifebee finally offered.

“Uh-huh,” Stern grunted.

“Certainly nowhere near as bad as when you crashed into the USS Stallion during the-“

“THEY crashed into US!” Stern objected.

There was a flicker of motion as Silverado’s impulse drive kicked in. But the drive had evidently been damaged in the collision, as instead of breaking free of the surface, Silverado starting moving in a low, leisurely arc; her engines pushing forward, Roadrunner pushing back on the port side.

“He’s going to kill us,” Stern said quietly to Valtaic.

“Very possibly,” Valtaic agreed.

“He’s probably going to kill you too,” Stern added.

Valtaic frowned, considered for a few moments, then nodded.

“Yes. He probably will.”

They watched as Silverado continued to slide across the lunar surface.


“In here,” Sylvia said, leading Jeffery into a corridor that ran alongside the cavernous main chamber of Shipyard Six. With Fifebee aboard the Hummingbird, Jeffery was pulling her holo-relay with him in order to allow Sylvia to maintain her holographic body.

“We checked in here right after the theft,” Jeffery said, “There was nothin’. The bots were still shut down.”

“I want to take a closer look,” Sylvia said. They came to the big double-doors that led into one of several construction bot storage bays. Jeffery entered his security codes, and the doors hissed open.

Dozens of construction bots lined the walls of the room. Stacked several deep and a good dozen high, they filled much of the space. Jeffery pulled out his tricorder and ran a quick scan.

“No power levels,” he informed Sylvia, “They’re powered down,”

Sylvia walked over and gently banged one fist against the nearest bot. It gave a dull thud, about what you’d expect from flesh hitting metal. Holographic flesh, even.

Then she reached out, grabbed it, and made a few tweaks to the holo-relay.

Jeffery jumped as a good sized chunk of the bot (and Sylvia’s hand) dissolved into a bouncing, static-filled mess. He reached over and passed his hand through several times,”

“Holograms,” he looked up at the bots, “My God…how many of them? Whot happened to the real bots?”

“I don’t know,” Sylvia replied, pulling her hand back, “But come on. We need to check something else out before we report to Chris,”


“I’m going to kill them,” Stafford said, his voice soft and completely without emotion, “I’m going to kill every single one of them,”

“You mean the thieves, right sir?” Quintaine asked.

Stafford just glared at him.

“Ah, Lt Rengs is having problems getting control of the Roadrunner’s engines,” Quintane said, changing the topic, “And I’ve got structural integrity warnings along the engineering hull. I suggest we cut our impulse engines, it’ll reduce hull stress,”

“Fine,”

Stafford watched the screen as the ship slowly came to a halt, then reversed course, still pushed by the smaller vessel stuck up against her. Silverado was moving in a slow, backwards arc now, neatly following the curve of the city.

“Damage is actually very minimal,” Quintaine went on, forcing a smile, “The lunar surface is several meters of powdered rock, a lot of it thrown here when the city flattened out its landing site. We weren’t going very fast at all when we hit, so other than a couple spots where the Roadrunner hit, it’s all cosmetic.

“Stop. Talking.” Stafford said coolly, eyes on the screen. The groove Silverdo’s lower hull was pushing into the soil was becoming visible on the screen. Shipyard 3 was already out of view ahead of them, and Shipyard 4 was just coming up on the starboard side.

The turbolift doors hissed open and Jeffery stepped onto the bridge.

“Chris, Sylvia and I-“ he gaped at the screen and did a double-take at the Master Situation display, “Geez mate, what have ye done to me ship!?”

“I’m going to go see if Sage needs a hand in Engineering,” Quintaine bolted for the turbolift.

“Crashed,” Stafford said flatly, “Right out of the dock.”

“Who the hell was flyin??’”

Pye gulped.

“Whot in the blazin’ name of-“

“Oh, it’s wasn’t his fault, Stafford sighed, then seemed to deflate, “Somebody crashed the Roadrunner into us. It’s just…us being us. What can I expect? There’s no way we could have launched the ship without SOMETHING going wrong!”

“At least we didn’t get trapped in an evil virtual dream world this time,” Bithe pointed out pleasantly.

“Yeah, I guess this is fairly minor by comparison,” Stafford agreed, “Other than the missing antimatter. So what did you and Sylvia find?”

Jeffery filled him in on the missing bots, the holographic cover, and Sylvia’s belief that it had been the bots that had disconnected her from the city and were likely in control of the Roadrunner.

“But there’s more,” Jeffery went on, “The bots aren’t the only thing missin’ from the yard! They took industrial-scale replicators! Two of them! Sylvia’s checkin’ now, but we’d bet ye buns to biscuits that there’s at least one emergency fusion generator missin’, and probably a few pieces of one of the interference field generators too!”

There was a shimmer of holographic sparks and Fifebee appeared on the bridge.

“Oh good,” she said, sounding pleased, “The holo-emitters in the bridge are working.” She turned to Stafford, “I need to access Silverado’s subspace transceiver array in order to jam the signal controlling the Roadrunner. The one aboard Hummingbird is not strong enough,”

“Fine,” Stafford said, “Jeffery, how do you figure that?”

“Well ye don’t steal industrial replicators without having a way to power them,” Jeffery shrugged, “And if they weren’t using some sort of scan block, we’d have picked ‘em up on sensors by now,”

“Picked who up?” Fifebee’s head snapped towards Jeffery.

“The bots that stole a bunch of stuff from the shipyard, stole a Matrian interference field generator and left holograms of themselves in the shipyard to throw us off,” Jeffery said.

Fifebee didn’t even bother walking to the science station; she simply disappeared from the tactical panel and reappeared at her old station.

“Yes!” she said, “How could I have been so stupid? The interference fields the Matrian used were DESIGNED to fool Matrian sensors like the ones on Haven! It was only Silverado’s advanced Federation sensors that allowed us to find it in the first place!”

“What?” Stafford blinked.

“The geological survey of the moon,” Fifebee said, “I was assisting because there were some odd null readings the Haven science team couldn’t explain!” Her console beeped, a string of results scrolling up the display, “Somebody is using an interference field, five kilometres from the city!”

There was a minor jolt as the ship hit something, either a firm patch of bedrock or a boulder or…something.

“Look, Fifebee do what you need to do to get that little ship turned off so we can put this one back in the shipyard for repairs.” Stafford barked

“Of course,”

After another moment, with Shipyard 5 coming into view, Silverado ground to a stop. Without the force of Roadunner’s engines, the big ship started tilting down, the moon’s gravity pulling the saucer section towards the ground. Pye, hands steady, used light taps on the thrusters to bring her down gently.

Then there was a dull, screeching sound.

“The Roadrunner just slid off the port nacelle pylon and hit the ground. Stern and Rengs are OK,” Bithe reported, “And they say the Roadrunner is OK. It needs work, but we don’t have to worry about a warp core breach ten meters from our hull,”

“Uh-huh,” Stafford wasn’t even paying attention. He and Jeffery were staring at the screen.

What Silverado had hit earlier hadn’t been a boulder, or a section of bedrock. The ship had shaken because its weight had caused a section of ground to collapse.

Revealing a broad tunnel, running straight out from Shipyard 5.

“Well,” Burke said cheerfully, “I think I figured out how they snuck all that stuff out of the city!”


“Captain on the bridge,” Rengs announced as Stafford, Jeffery, Pye, Burke and Bithe squeezed into the Hummingbird’s cramped and crowded bridge.

“Out,” Stafford snapped.

“Sir,” Stern gulped, “I realize that maybe I didn’t quite handle that the best way, and maybe-“

“Stern, I don’t want to talk about it,” Stafford said, “I want-“

“Lt Commander Stern failed to mention that he used the tractor beam under my-“

“-even though Valtaic insisted that I let Silverado handle things,” Stern cut him off, “But hey, he kept us from damaging the city at least, right?”

Valtaic frowned.

“Later!” Stafford said, exasperated, “Look, I want the Hazardous Team suited up and running down that tunnel in five minutes or less! Jeffery will brief you while you’re getting dressed. Get our antimatter back! We’ll support you from the Hummingbird, and Quintine and Fifebee are on Silverado ready to jam any more weird signals.”

“I must insist that-“ Valtaic started.

“Valtaic, shut it,” Stern muttered on his way by, “Talk later. Go down to Engineering and make sure we don’t crash or anything!”

Valtaic and the HT worked their way off the tiny bridge in a flurry of thrusting elbows and trod-upon toes. Stafford flopped down in the command chair and sighed.

“Man, what a downgrade,” he said, “OK, Pye. Take us to this sensor anomaly. Bithe, keep a channel open to Fifebee. And where’s Sylvia?”

“I’m dividing my attention between Silverado and Hummingbird,” Sylvia’s voice chimed from the speakers.

“Any idea what this is about?” he asked.

“The whole thing with the Roadrunner was definitely a ploy to buy time,” Bithe said before Sylvia could get a word in, “The only thing that it accomplished was to send us running around, doing anything BUT tracking down the antimatter thief.”

“But why?” Stafford seethed.

“Clearly, they plan to build something,” Sylvia said, “That is their whole raison d’etre.”

“It’s what they were made for, too,” Jeffery added helpfully.

“Simon, that’s what raison d-“

“Hazardous Team is ready for beam-in,” Bithe said cheerfully, “I can get them in the tunnel, pretty close to the sensor anomaly. Unless you’re worried whoever is causing it is going to shoot them on sight?”

“Not especially,” Stafford said, “Energize.”


Stern, Marsden, Kreklor, Dar’ugal, Rengs and Simmons materialized into total darkness. A quick tap on the chin consoles inside their helmets activated a sensor overlay…or in the case of Simmons, activated the misting feature. He jolted in surprise, which sent him bouncing up in the low gravity, banging his head on the ceiling.

“It’s a tunnel all right,” Stern said.

“Not a very nice one, either,” Rengs said, “Clearly they just burned through with energy beams. The walls are fused. No lighting, no gravity enhancement. Just a straight line from here to there.”

“Angling downward as well,” Stern said, “What was our beam-in depth?”

“One hundred meters,” Bithe replied, “Can your tricorders get anything?”

“Nope,” Marsden was tapping away at his, “Wait. There’s no photonic traces here at all. No holograms have come through.”

“They photonic readings in Shipyard Five were likely a ruse to throw us off,” Fifebee said over the channel.

“Or a disguise, so somebody looking in wouldn’t see a bunch of bots filling a bunch of antimatter pods.” Jeffery’s voice chimed in.

“Where’d they get the pods anway?” Simmons wondered, “I’ve always wanted one…”

“They stole an industrial replicator,” Stern grumbled. All the superior officers on the line was really cramping his style, “And no. You have enough things that go boom.”

They walked in silence for several moments.

“-signal….unable…up…” they couldn’t tell if it was Fifebee or Bithe on the comm, but clearly they were getting into the interference field.

<CRUNCH>

Everybody tensed, weapons out. The sound had been transmitted through the comm from somebody’s suit, there being no atmosphere in the tunnel. But what had made the sound?

“That was me,” Kreklor growled from where he had taken point, “My boot went-“

<CRUNCH!>

“The floor just got all brittle,” Rengs sounded puzzled, “I think..yeah, there are footprints here.” He walked over and poked the wall. It took a bit of a poke, but eventually the fused shell that supported the tunnel crumbled, “This is a very bad sign,”

“The tunnels are unstable, great,” Stern said, “OK, people, watch your step-“

<CLANG!>

“ghuy’cha!” Kreklor cursed.

“I said to watch your step!”

“There is a GIRDER in the middle of the tunnel!”

“Look, let’s just hurry this up and find the thief, OK?’ Stern said.


“We have lost comms,” Bithe reported.

“Did we ever figure out how to counter these interference fields the Matrians were apparently so fond of?” Stafford asked.

“No, sir,”

“Think we could figure it out in the next ten minutes?”

“No, sir,”

“Ah well,”


“We should be nearing the source of the interference,” Marsden said.

<WHOMP>

“By the Prophets!” Rengs cursed, tripping over a half-buried, horizontal girder and flying…well, awkwardly floating forward to land in a puff of lunar dust, “What on Bajor were they trying to build here?”

“Is your suit breached?” Stern asked.

“No,” Rengs said, annoyed, “My suit is not breached, this time. It wasn’t breached when I walked into that conduit. It wasn’t breached when Kreklor tripped on that cable run and landed on top of me,”

The underground whatever-it-was that the Hazardous Team had infiltrated had gone from a few girders to an absolute maze of obstacles almost immediately. They’d initially seemed to be in a clear ‘corridor’ between rows of metal beams, but their efforts to go right towards the source of interference had taken them off that path and right into a metal forest of things to walk into.

“I just have this sense that if we’d taken a left back there, we’d be OK,” Marsden said, sounding a bit distracted. He was still tapping his tricorder, “The interference is strong, but I think we must be getting close. I think…this might be a magnetic flux, directly below us. Could be antimatter storage. No, no. I lost it.”

Stern grabbed him by the shoulders, turned him around, and walked him back the way he’d come.

“Yeah, yeah,” Marsden nodded, “There it is. Must be an eddy in the-“

“Don’t care. Down?” Stern asked.

“Yeah,”

But down didn’t prove to be all that easy a direction to go. Simmons was pointing his phaser at the ground when Dar’ugal abruptly stopped him.

“What?” Simmons whined.

“No, he’s right,” Rengs said. He stared brushing away the dusty soil they’d exposed as their footsteps had broken through the thin crust. After a moment, he came across the actual ‘floor’. Girders, conduits, smaller support strings, not enough to be considered a deck, but enough to form a web that had trapped a layer of material.

Dar’ugal started gesturing, pushing out his arms then cupping his ear as if listening.

“There’s no atmosphere,” Stern shook his head, “you’re not going to hear-“

Marsden had placed his tricorder on the ground and tapped a few buttons. After a moment, they felt a brief vibration in the soles of their boots.

“OK, I have a very rough sounding map,” he said.

“I didn’t know these things could do that,” Rengs remarked. Stern just shrugged inside his suit.

“That way,” Marsden said, “The ground all around here, up and down, isn’t as dense as it should be. Somebody’s been doing a LOT of digging to disturb this much of it,”

“We know,” Kreklor banged on a girder with one fist.

“But they left tunnels,” Marsden said, “There’s a vertical shaft this way,”

They moved to follow him.

“I’ll tell you something else though,” Marsen said, opening a private channel to Stern.

“What’s that?”

“The technology in those conduits?” Marsden gestured back, “It’s Starfleet technology. Whatever they’re building, they stole the designs from us,”

“So? They’ve built runabouts, an NX-class ship, rebuilt Silverado and worked on our shuttles. This isn’t exactly a surprise.”

“That’s true,” Marsden switched back to the public channel, “This way,”


“Sir,” Fifebee’s voice came over the comm, “You will be pleased to know that Silverado has returned to Shipyard 3. Major Dekaire is unimpressed with your actions, but repairs are underway. It is likely our launch will not be delayed. Our official launch,” she clarified.

“Thanks, Fifebee,” Stafford grimaced.

The Hummingbird was hovering directly above the HT’s last known position, barely above the ground. The surface of the moon didn’t appear any different from any other section of land nearby, but an area roughly three hundred meters in diameter simply defied scanning.

“Chris, I’ve been thinking,” Sylvia said carefully.

“OK…”

“We know the bots can’t get their own antimatter. We know they like building things. They can get deuterium easily enough…I bet if we looked around the gas giant we’re orbiting we’d find a small extractor. Or maybe they extracted Helium-3 from the lunar soil. Those industrial replicators and the fusion plant they took will let them produce most of the metals and materials they need to build almost anything they want.”

“As long as they have the energy,” Stafford almost rolled his eyes. Only a PTSD-like reaction (based on how much his actual mother hated it when he did that) managed to stop him in time, “Sylvia, this is basic Federation economics. If we just replicated every single thing we needed instead of mining and manufacturing, the amount of energy needed would be insane! And some things either can’t be replicated, or don’t replicate very well.”

“The bots don’t care about that, apparently!” Sylvia cut him off, her voice uncharacteristically sharp, “They just want to build! And they’ve been working on this for a while, based on what we’ve seen so far! Which means they’ve been relying on fusion energy up until now,”

“So why switch to antimatter?” Stafford wondered, “We’d never have noticed what was happening without the theft,”

“Exactly,” Sylvia said, “Why switch? And why switch NOW? And why take from us instead of Haven?”

“I dunno,” now Stafford did roll his eyes, motherhood preferences to the contrary be damned, “Because they’re…they plan to…”

His eyes widened.

“Raise the Hazardous Team,” he said to Bithe, “Now. Modulate the deflector harmonics to…I don’t know, I’m throwing random techno-babble out here. But tell them to get the hell out of there!”


<WHAM!>

Kreklor hit the bottom of the shaft and sunk half a foot into the loose soil. Dar’ugal and Simmons grabbed him and pulled him clear before Marsden could land on top of him.

“You said the gravity was low enough that the fall wouldn’t hurt,” Simmons told Marsden as he crashed into the ‘sand pit’, “It hurt,”

“Weakling,” Kreklor sniffed.

“…bird…team…watch…” the channel opened briefly, crackled, let a few words through, then abruptly died.

“Well, that was fun,” Stern said, getting back to his feet and shaking off the loose dust.

“I just had a thought,” Simmons spoke up.

“You CAN’T have an antimatter bomb!” Stern cut him off.

“No,” Simmons shook his head, causing his helmet to barely twitch to the side, “Why haven’t we seen the bots yet?”

“They’re still building this thing, somewhere else?”

“Because we have been wasting our time in empty tunnels” Kreklor bared his fangs, invisible behind his faceplate, “They are surely guarding something more important!”

“Like the antimatter we’re walking up to?”

“Weapons out,” Stern ordered, realizing that just this once the little bomb-bug was right.

“The pods are right in front of us,” Marsden said.

“Uh-oh,” Kreklor gulped.

“Uh-oh?”

Silence.

“KREKLOR? UH-OH???” Stern demanded.

“I think I just tripped an alarm field,” the Klingon said.

“How can you tell?”

“Because I have…I think…laser beams on my suit,”

“What? But-“

“They can’t use any more modern sensors in the field,” Marsden moved up and saw that yes, a series of red dots were covering Kreklor’s suit, “It blinds them as much as it blinds us! Anything not hard-wired-“

“BOTS!” Rengs shouted.

Sure enough, three big Matrian construction bots had stepped into the dark tunnel ahead of them. Behind them, Stern could see the hulking shapes of several Starfleet-design antimatter pods neatly lined up.

“HOLD FIRE!” he shouted, “If you hit the pods, you’ll blow us ALL to gibbets!”

The bots, facing away from the pods, had no such limits.

The Hazardous Team scattered as three welding beams shot out, neatly bisecting the empty space they had just filled.

“Get to the pods!” Rengs yelled, “They can’t shoot as us if we’re behind them!”

Simmons pulled an EMP grenade from his belt.

“NO!” Stern shouted. Dar’ugal swatted the EMP grenade away from him before he could pull the pin, “You can’t disrupt the magnetic fields in those pods!”

“Oh, right,”

“Oh, right,” Rengs mimicked, “You nearly KILLED US! AGAIN!”

“It’s what I do!”


“The interference field is dropping!” Fifebee barked from Silverado, “Readings are still spotty, but I’m getting a power surge now!”

“Hummingbird to Stern!” Stafford jabbed the command chair buttons.

“Stern here! Uh, we’ve got a problem! We tripped an alarm, the bots know we’re here now!”

“Yeah, you just stirred up the nest,” Stafford agreed, “The interference field is down! Do you have the antimatter?”

“We found the pods,” Stern reported, “But we’re-WATCH THAT CONDUIT! We’ve got three bots here now, and I bet more are on the way! We’re going to need beam out!”

“Stern, we can’t let them get away with all that antimatter!”

“OK, we’re behind the pods, NOW we can return fire-“

The channel abruptly cut out.

“Ummm,” Bithe gulped.

“What?” Stafford demanded.

“Pye, let’s see the surface,” Bithe said.

Pye angled the Hummingbird so the bridge windows were looking straight down at the ground. Not a good position for anyone who didn’t like heights. Like Stafford.

“YYEEEEEAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!” Stafford clutched at his chair and squeezed his eyes shut, “Just use the f**king overlay!”

“Oh, sorry,” Pye said, “Uh, overlay active.

Stafford opened his eyes, then clenched them shut again.

“NO IT ISN”T! We’re still pointing at the ground!”

“Um…yeah. Sorry sir. OK, now we’re REALLY using the overlay,”

Stafford looked at the holographic image. The whole section of ground beneath them was vibrating, the soil flattening out as it shook, as if on a sieve.

“They’re launching a ship,” Stafford said, shaking his head, “They built another ship. Underground, yet.”

“This is surprisingly foolish of them,” Fifebee said over the comm, “Haven launched from underground, and it required a massive amount of energy to push it free of the desert sand. A three-hundred meter starship with a surface area of-“

“Fifebee! The point?”

“Even with the antimatter, I don’t see how they can hope to lift the soil covering them,” Fifebee said.

“Oh,”


“NOW WHAT?” Stern demanded as the ceiling abruptly started caving in, pouring sandy and dusty lunar soil on them.

“This whole place is shaking apart!” Rengs yelled.

“At least the bots stopped shooting at us,” Simmons said cheerfully, “They probably can’t see us!”

“I’m picking up antigravity signatures!” Marsden added, still tapping at his tricorder, “Powerful ones!”

“Everybody grab onto something!” Stern ordered, grabbing onto a support strut holding the nearest antimatter pod


Stafford watched the vibrating soil. He was so intent on figuring out what the bots were trying to do, he nearly missed it when something thrust itself above the surface.

Quickly.

“COLLISION ALERT!” announced the computer.

“Evasive manoeuvers!” Stafford ordered. Pye jerked the ship to the side, but they’d been too close to the surface. A massive collection of struts and girders was pushing towards them, dusty grey lunar soil pouring from it in all directions.

“Most fascinating,” Fifebee could be heard in the background, “They built only the frame and key components. The soil is simply falling through them!”

Hummingbird was almost clear when it clipped the edge of the saucer-shaped skeleton breaking free of the moon. Pye swore, pulling the bow up with the ventral thrusters, struggling to keep control of the small ship. It wobbled drunkenly, almost managed to pull up in time, then came up on a steep hill and crashed into the moon surface, sending up a cloud of dust as it slid to a halt. The lower third of the ring nacelle had been torn off and was still attached to the bot’s skeletal construction, but the ship was otherwise intact.

“Chris,” Sylvia broke in, “You’re going to want to see this,”

“SEE WHAT?” Stafford barked, “This is the second time - TODAY - that I’ve been on a crashing ship!”

“Chris, don’t be a baby, you weren’t even knocked out of your seat!” Sylvia scolded him, “Now, look!”

Stafford examined the display.

“You’ve got to be KIDDING ME!” he snapped.


“Oh hell!” Simmons gulped, looking down as the lunar surface receded below them, “We’re on a ship. We’re on the BOTTOM of a ship! They bots are taking us away!”

Indeed, they were on the very bottom of a large, cylindrical skeleton. They could see, several levels up, the section where they had first entered the construct. Below them there was a vast pit, now largely filled with the dirt that had fallen out of the skeletal ship. They hadn’t seen the Humminbird plow into the dirt, but they could see the downed ship coming up directly beneath them as the bot ship started to move. To either side, a short distance off but perfectly level with them, were a pair of big warp nacelles, their grills just beginning to glow with the blue of warp plasma. And it was easy to see the glow, considering that the nacelles were the same skeletal construction as the rest of the ship. Warp coils, conduits, field controllers and Bussard collection coils were all clearly visible, and clearly Federation in design. Above them, and slightly forward, a familiar Federation-style warp core was thrumming to life, extending up to the deuterium tanks at the top of the cylindrical engineering hull.

And the ship was rising away from the surface of the planetoid. They felt a vibration in the hull, and Stern looked up just in time to see a very large impulse engine starting its start-up sequence.

“EXPLOSIVES!” Simmons shouted, trying to be heard over the humming vibrations racing through the girders they gripped.

“Blowing something up next to the antimatter pods is NOT going to get us out of here!” Stern barked.

“The demolition devil is right,” Kreklor pointed at a compact package set up on the framework, “If we trigger the emergency antimatter ejection charges, we will be ejected with the antimatter!”

Stern thought for a split second.

“Do it!”

“Aaarise, children of the Fatherland!” Simmons sang loudly, reaching up to the charge and tapping a few buttons. A countdown appeared immediately, starting at five.

“Wait, what about the REST of the pods!!??” Marsden asked.

“What?”

“You only got THIS pod assembly-“

The rest of his objection was drowned out by a series of loud explosions.


“Transfer auxiliary power to the thrusters!” Stafford ordered, “Get this thing off this rock and after that…that…skele-ship!”

“I can’t,” Pye replied, “The helm control systems have gone into a safety lockout until the crash damage can be assessed. I don’t have the override codes, Haven must have them. And my airbag deployed!”

“Ohhh, they’re getting away!” Stafford seethed. On the overlay, he could see the collection of girders rising upward, a single impulse engine flickering to life.

There was a series of sparks at the bottom of the shape, then a segment broke away, drifting lazily down towards the moon surface. Above it, the ship fired its impulse engines and disappeared from view.

“Bithe, what’s that?” Stafford asked.

“Ummm…you want the good news or bad news?” the Beta shift tactical officer asked.

“Good news?”

“The good news is we’re about to get half our antimatter back,” Bithe gulped.

“And…” Stafford gulped, “And the bad?”

“It’s coming right at us.”


“OH SHIT!” Marsden squealed, his voice crackling like a teenager.

“We’re off the ship, BUT NOW WE”RE HANGING ON TO A DOZEN KILOS OF FALLING ANTIMATTER!” Stern shouted at Simmons and Kreklor, “HOW IS THIS AN IMPROVEMENT??”

“Because now we can get away!” Kreklor said. He braced himself against a girder, kicked himself away, hard, and started drifting away from the falling pod assembly. He started to tumble gently in the low gravity

“You’re never going to clear the blast radius!” Stern said.

“But there may be enough of my corpse left for a dignified burial,” Kreklor replied.

“It’s not going to explode,” Simmons said confidently, “In this low gravity? We’re fine,”

Stern and Rengs exchanged a look through their helmets.

Rengs immediately pushed himself away from the pod assembly, Stern less than a second behind him.

“Oh, you guys are such chickens!” Simmons called, “Darg, you’re with me, right?”

But Dar’ugal had pushed off right after Kreklor.

“CHICKENS!” Simmons shouted.


“Stafford to Simplot! I need the override codes for the Hummingbird in thirty seconds or we’re all dead!”

“Simplot to Stafford,” Simplot’s voice was cheerful, polite. Painfully so. It was that cheerfulness that tells you that you’re in BIG trouble. The kind that disappears halfway through what turns into a very angry rant. “You mean it’s not enough that you’ve crashed three, AND COUNT THEM, IT’S THREE, starships TODAY, you want me to give you an override so you can fly that one around AGAIN and maybe bring today’s crash count up to FOUR!!?? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND!!??”

“Simplot! There’s a shit-ton of antimatter about to land on our heads!”

“Five pods, actually,” Bithe gulped, “Yeah, I really don’t want to be here right now.”

“I’m never trusting you with another ship again! Do I have to remind you, I BLEW MINE UP saving your life??”

“Stafford out,” Stafford closed the channel, “Well, that’s a dead end. Can we vent the shuttlebay? Anything to move?”

“No shuttlebay,” Pye said, “But maybe-“

“Stern to Hummingbird! Watch out!”

<WHAM!!!>

The ship shook slightly.

Stafford had flinched back and squeezed his eyes shut. Carefully, very carefully, he cracked one open. He was still alive, and in one piece. There was no blinding flash, no hell-fire. No afterlife, waiting at the end of the tunnel.

A space-suited figure roughly the size of Lt Commander Stern slowly slid off the sensor array above the bridge, slid down the big front window, then landed on the upper hull with a thunk.

“Ow,” Stern said over the comm, “That really hurt,”

Stafford was about to deliver a cutting remark when directly ahead of them a roughly rectangular collection of girders (complete with five antimatter pods nestled within) smashed into the ground exactly five meters from the Hummingbird’s forward hull.

“AAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!” Pye screamed, while Stafford, Bithe and Burke flung themselves to the deck.

Silence.

Slowly, Stafford rose from the deck and looked back out the window. He was just in time to see two more space-suited figures crash into the lunar soil with puffs of dust.

“It’s raining us!” Stern mumbled drunkenly.

“I TOLD you we weren’t high enough to damage these,” Simmons said. Ahead, Stafford could see a space-suited figure inside the now-bent collection of girders, patting one of the pods with a disturbing amount of affection.

“I need a change of pants,” Marsden’s voice came over the comm, “And…y’know…these suits don’t have the indoor plumbing. So sooner would really be better.”

“Is it time to go off the clock, yet?” Rengs sighed.

Stafford just ground his teeth.


Captain’s Log, Stardate: The Day We Crashed Three Ships On The Same Day,


“Yes, Starfleet, I know that’s not a real Stardate. But Captain Simplot has already screamed at us for crashing three ships. Admiral Tunney has screamed at us for crashing three ships. Major Dekaire has yelled at us for the sudden surge in her repair schedule, the local Matrian Environmental Preservation Initiative Team Rep has screamed at us for leaving three…what did she say? ‘Unnecessary modifications to the local environment’. By which she means the three skid-marks from the afore-mentioned crashed ships. So yes, Starfleet, I’m aware of what we did today. And I’m aware that YOU’RE aware, so you can just not bother to bring it up again, thank you VERY much!”


“Jall, T’Parief, Yanick,” Stafford greeted his three newly returned officers as they stepped into the Shipyard 3 conference room, “Thanks so much for leaving me here to deal with thieving robots, hijacked ships and the complete humiliation of the Hazardous Team. And the Beta Shift,”

“Wowryk was kidnapped, we rescued her during a blackout drunk, then we were attacked at a breakfast café, chased around an underwater city, and then we blew up one of the buildings so we could float to the surface and escape,” Yanick shot back.

“Wowryk kissed a boy,” Jall added, “And he liked it,”

“Jall was molested by a Klingon,” Wowryk said haughtily.

“So what’s new?” Jall shrugged.

“A woman was involved, too,” Wowryk added.

Stafford blinked.

“OK, in retrospect, I suppose I’m glad you left me here,” Stafford admitted. He turned to Fifebee, “So, what do we know?”

“Over the course of an indeterminate amount of time, approximately three hundred construction bots from Shipyard Six stole three fusion power units, two industrial replicators and part of an interference field generator from Shipyard 6 or its vicinity,” Fifebee started without preamble, “They dug a tunnel just far enough that the sensor null zone would go unnoticed. They apparently began construction deep below the surface, working their way up deck by deck, using the lunar soil as replicator mass. Unused lunar material simply fell into the completed decks as upper decks were constructed, hence the cave-like appearance of the engineering hull. They built only the spaceframe and essential systems.”

She tapped a button, and a holographic reconstruction of the skeletal ship appeared on the table in front of them. Engineering hull and nacelles placed directly beneath a circular saucer section.

“The ship appears similar to modern Nebula-class vessels, only with Ambassador-era components,” Jeffery stepped in, “But it only looks that way. See, the interconnecting struts are all wrong. It IS an Ambassador- class ship, it’s just been…Ah dunno…squished into this hodge-podge, so it would fit in the sensor dead zone. Ah’ll betcha once they find a new hidin’ place, they’ll re-arrange the pieces. And boom! Silverado 2.0!”

“Why bother?” Jall asked, “I mean, I missed the whole thing with the metal tinkerers. But why bother building another ship? I mean, it’s only the frame of a ship, really. No hull, no habitable space? That thing’s no good to anybody!”

“It’s fine for them,” Sylvia’s voice broke in. The hologram on the table flickered, then her face appeared, “They don’t need atmosphere. They don’t need living compartments. They just need something to grab onto and a power source to recharge from.”

“That still doesn’t answer why they went to all this trouble!” Stafford said, “I mean, you and Fifebee saw it repeatedly, they just want to build ships. Why would they build themselves half a ship, then take off God knows where?”

“I don’t know, Chris,” Sylvia said, “But this was a sophisticated operation.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because they covered their tracks through the city security system,” Sylvia said, “They knew they had to disconnect me from the city computer, because I could override them. They’re just not capable of planning to that level on their own. Somehow, they’ve either developed something beyond what Fifebee and I saw before, or there’s some sort of AI that’s directing them.”

“Any idea where a rogue AI would come from?” Stafford asked.

“Maybe they took a copy of Madam from the city computer?” Sylvia’s voice seemed to shrug, “I wouldn’t be too concerned. That ship likely isn’t a huge threat,”

“On what do you base that?” T’Parief rumbled.

“Because there are a LOT of ship components that you just can’t replicate,” Jeffery knew this one, “They only managed to get the warp core together by stealin’ dilithium from one of the other shipyard. They’re missin’ bio-neural gel-packs, their phaser focus crystals’ll burn out in half the time it would take genuine ones to fail, God knows what software they’re usin’. The longer they stayed here, the more stuff they could’ve filched from the city. The antimatter was just the crucial piece of the puzzle.”

“How much of what they needed would have been on the Roadrunner?” Valtaic asked, his usually blank expression looking very concerned.

“All of it,” Jeffery said.

“More than that,” Fifebee said, “The Hummingbird-class ships have nano-tech fabrication systems. They CAN build many of the components replicators can’t.”

“So maybe stealing the Roadrunner wasn’t just a decoy move,” Stafford said, “Maybe they were just waiting for the command codes to be unlocked. But they couldn’t do anything with it by then, because we were already chasing after them.”

“But if I’m understanding this right, and I’m a smart guy so I am,” Jall said, “We’ve got an imitation Federation ship with a crew of robots that just took off into the unknown to do God-knows what to an unsuspecting quadrant? That sounds pretty bad,”

“Oh, it’s worse. They’re heading right for Federation space,” Stafford said.

“I hope Starfleet does something about it,” Jall wiggled his eyebrows.

“They are,” Stafford said, suddenly looking tired.

Jall blinked, then his shoulders sagged. “Oh. You mean…”

“Yeah. We launch, on schedule. Then we’re going to get a boost from one of those quantum death-trap tugs, beat the bots back to Federation space, chase them down and figure out what the hell they’re up to,” Stafford said.

“So we’re cleaning up our own mess?” Wowryk asked, “How virtuous of us!”

“Yay us.” Stafford said flatly, “We launch in five days. Get your departments ready. Dismissed.”


Stern was helping the rest of the security department as they prepared crates of security equipment to be moved from one of the Shipyard 3 cargo bays back into the security section aboard Silverado. Everything from weapons and body armour to surveillance equipment and nifty little ‘Starfleet Security: Beyond the Red Shirt’ recruiting pamphlets that were probably left over from Silverado’s original launch eighty-something years ago.

“Lt Commander Stern, I wish to speak with you,” Lt Commmander Valtaic said, walking right up to Stern but staying at the edge of his personal space.

“Sure, what’s up?”

“You took the blame for the tractor beam incident with the Roadrunner,” Valtaic said, “You lied to the Captain. I plan to address this, but I want to understand why you’d do it.”

“You’re not a Vulcan, are you?” Stern asked.

“No, Vulcans are far too cryptic for my tastes,” Valtaic crossed his arms, “They can use logic to argue any case they wish. But you’re avoiding the question,”

Stern looked around, noticed the number of nearby ears, then gestured for Valtaic to follow him into the cargo-master’s office. He remembered at the last minute not to actually grab him by the arm.

“You fucked up,” Stern said, “It’s simple,”

“I know,” Valtaic said, “I was, and am, ready to admit it,”

“No, look,” Stern thought for a moment how to explain what was going through his head, “Look, you DON’T fuck up. At least, not as much as the rest of us. That’s why Stafford sent you and Fifebee to follow us. You’re predictable, fairly smart, and to be honest you’re more boring than the rest of us. But you’re also more likely to make decisions that don’t end in disaster.”

“Not always, it seems,”

“Right. But see, the HT? That’s not us. We get the job done, usually. But we also usually destroy some innocent building in the process. Or kill somebody’s sacred space monkey. We get it done, but we screw up on the way. That’s the way it is,”

“But why take the blame?” Valtaic asked.

“Because if Stafford is going to trust somebody to keep tabs on us, I’d rather it be you,” Stern said, “I know exactly what you’re thinking, I don’t have to worry about some hidden motive, or whether you might be trying to work your own agenda at the same time. What I see is what I get. And that makes my job easier. And really, he expected it to be us.”

“I’m impressed by your honesty,” Valtaic admitted, “You are blunt, for a human.”

He thought for a moment.

“If the Captain questions me on it again, I will not lie. But I won’t bring it up myself,” he decided, “Acceptable?”

“Yeah.”

Valtaic nodded, then turned to go.

“You realize we’re probably going to chase crazy robots again,” Stern called, “And you’ll probably get sent along to make sure we don’t cause too much mayhem,”

“No,” Valtaic replied, “If you’re chasing crazy robots, the Captain will want the full measure of your mayhem. My supervision won’t be needed.”

He left.